Five Nights at Freddy’s is Hollywood’s latest victim of the curse of the bad video game adaptation.
Before the film's release on Oct. 27, a leaked clip went viral; it showed the animatronics being nice and playing with the film’s main characters. Anyone who’s played the games knows that the animatronics are supposed to act hostile and murderous toward anyone they come in contact with. The movie’s choice to stray away from lore led longtime fans to create the meme, “Together we are FNAF,” posting videos on TikTok that made fun of the clip’s cheesiness.
Many fans, including myself, questioned if the movie would even be worth seeing after seeing these memes online. However, the film has been financially successful, grossing over $130 million worldwide on a budget of only $20 million. Is this success owed to the movie’s quality or because fans are nostalgic and want to support the franchise? I’d say the latter.
The plot of the film follows Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), a young man who is struggling to keep custody of his little sister Abby (Piper Rubio) and is haunted by the disappearance of his younger brother about a decade before. Desperate for work, Mike accepts the job of being the night security guard of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. While there, Mike stumbles upon a supernatural nightmare.
Although there are mixed feelings about the film from critics, there was high anticipation around performances from both Matthew Lillard, who plays William Afton, and Hutcherson. Lilliard seemed an exciting addition to the cast list, due to his fame for his roles as Stu in Scream (1996) and Shaggy in Scooby-Doo (2002). The actor has great range and it was fun to see him return to the horror genre in this film. Hutcherson is best known as Peeta in The Hunger Games movie series. Hutcherson solidly relays the emotional troubles of his character, expertly balancing taking care of his sister and trying to reconcile his brother’s disappearance.
However, the movie's plot is a different story. It focuses too much on the background of his character and his custody battle for Abby. Five Nights at Freddy’s initially attracted fans with its horror, not any emotional backstory. When playing the games, I loved the anticipation of being on the edge of my seat, constantly checking the cameras and bracing myself for any impending animatronic jumpscares. The film did not have this “on the edge of my seat” feeling and it just felt like I was watching a watered-downed version of the games.
The film has some decent use of jump scares and gore, but they can only do so much with a PG-13 content rating. As someone who knows the lore and has played the games, it was disappointing to see that the film didn’t fully capture the game’s trademark unsettling ambiance. Since the franchise began in 2014, fans have been piecing together the complicated backstory behind each game, resulting in a lengthy lore. The creator of the games, Scott Cawthon, retired from game-making in June 2021, but aided in writing the film.
Although the film does not attempt to scare the audience as much as the games did, it still has many aspects that are enjoyable to watch. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that there are some surprise fan-favorite appearances like YouTuber CoryxKenshin, well-known in the FNAF community and famous for his funny playthroughs of horror games. There are also scenes in the film where iconic moments in FNAF lore are recreated. If you are a longtime fan of the games and watch the YouTuber MatPat (The Game Theorists) for his highly detailed theories, there are hidden easter eggs throughout the film that are fun to spot and decipher.
Lore aside, it is fun to see the animatronics come to life on the big screen. Watching the animatronics in action, although more childlike than violent, was nostalgic and made me reminisce playing the first set of games.
If you are on the fence about going to see the film, I recommend seeing it for yourself instead of taking word from social media. The “Together we are FNAF” memes are funny, but it’s important to remember that they are based on a clip taken out of the context of the film as a whole. If anything, at least go see the movie for Josh Hutcherson.
There is only room for improvement from Blumhouse Productions as there are rumors that this will not be the only Five Nights at Freddy’s movie. Some fans speculate that this will be a trilogy with lore coming from not only the games but Cawthon’s book series as well.
It seems the film shares the same sentiment as the franchise’s main antagonist, William Afton, always coming back.
Cover image via Pati Perret/Universal Pictures.