Five Nights at Freddy’s, 2023.
Directed by Emma Tammi.
Starring Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, Piper Rubio, Mary Stuart Masterson, Matthew Lillard, Lucas Grant, Kevin Foster, Jade Kindar-Martin, Jess Weiss, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., and Kat Conner Sterling.
A troubled security guard begins working at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. During his first night on the job, he realizes that the night shift won’t be so easy to get through. Pretty soon he will unveil what actually happened at Freddy’s.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Five Nights at Freddy’s wouldn’t exist.
It is inexcusable that Five Nights at Freddy’s, a movie based on a game that’s about trying to survive each night at an abandoned pizzeria haunted by killer animatronics of anthropomorphic animals, crams excessive exposition and backstory across its bloated runtime. There are nine of these games (not counting spinoffs), with director Emma Tammi (working on the script alongside video game series creator Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback, Chris Lee Hill, and Tyler MacIntyre) appearing to be pulling elements across many of them, which, combined with the unnecessary amount of screenwriters, would explain the disjointed nature of the narrative that never finds any rhythm or logical sense.
Regarding a fractured family that sees Josh Hutcherson’s Mike Schmidt as a guardian for his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio), including a cruel aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson) looking to file for custody, there is so much here that has nothing to do with the survival horror aspect. Yet, somehow, much of what’s happening also has everything to do with the ongoings at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria because, of course, everything has to be conveniently connected. This ranges from a childhood dream depicting the disappearance of Mike’s brother, the history of other missing children, Mike’s inability to hold a job, the pressures of looking after and providing for a bizarre sister who talks to imaginary friends and sketches odd drawings, schemes from the aunt to make Mike look like an unfit guardian, and more.
Through some support from Matthew Lillard’s job counselor, Steve, Mike lands work as a nighttime security guard for the pizzeria, a place that has apparently gone out of style even though the presentation of this film doesn’t seem to be modern. Confusion aside, it’s primarily a quiet job offering Mike time to relax. As such, he brings sleeping medication with him so he can willingly continue to dream about the picnic where his brother was kidnapped, believing in dream theory that suggests the visual identity of the culprit is still in his brain waiting to be unlocked.
While on the job, that dream begins ominously being invaded by another child, and Mike receives regular visits from police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) checking up on him and doling out the place’s lore, and stumbles across the previously mentioned creepy family-friendly mascots. One night, he is asleep and doesn’t notice the place getting trashed. Another night, he brings his sister since the usually reliable babysitter no longer answers the phone. Abby is drawn to the personality and friendship of the animatronics, which sets up the most nonsensical part of the film: a scene where Mike is in hysterics questioning why Vanessa didn’t warm him about the murderous animatronics, even though not too long ago, she looked him in the eye and said: “I will shoot you if you bring your daughter here again.”
If that’s not a warning, someone has to tell me what is. Here’s another warning: absolutely nothing scary happens in Five Nights at Freddy’s. Yes, the target demographic/fandom for the games is predominantly children, but that doesn’t excuse how little scares there are here. In one sequence, some nighttime invaders lazily die in an extended chase with zero suspense. Every other attempt at horror is a loud noise jump scare fixated on an inanimate object. The amount of time Abby spends hanging out with the animatronics before they turn murderous is probably more than anything resembling horror.
None of that is preparation for how off-the-rails stupid the third act is, in which taxi drivers chauffeur young girls to abandoned pizzerias without batting an eye, characters die off-screen, and plot twists come that raise more questions than answers. However, Five Nights at Freddy’s gives no reason to care about those answers or pursue them in the games.
Complements go to the pizzeria production and animatronic designs, which have some slight personality in the animated expressions. Beyond that, each night is a bore without scares, further brought down by a narrative comprised of several parts that collectively amount to nothing. The protagonist sleeps a lot because he believes the answers lie in his dreams; you will want to sleep because the film is boring.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com