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‘Five Nights At Freddy’s’ Review: Great On Paper, Bad Execution

As a fan since 2014, this adaptation of the iconic horror video game franchise from Blumhouse did not land for me.

'Five Nights At Freddy’s' Review: Great On Paper, Bad Execution
Five Nights at Freddy’s / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Announced almost a decade ago in 2015, Five Nights At Freddy’s was originally going to be produced by Warner Bros., who had acquired the rights to the franchise. Developments on the project were slow until March 2017, when it was announced by franchise creator Scott Cawthon that Blumhouse would be producing the feature.

The film then sat in development hell as it underwent creative rehauls and script rewrites. It was only until October 2022 did the project start to pick up steam as director and co-writer Emma Tammi was hired with casting beginning two months later. Finally, the highly anticipated Five Nights At Freddy’s made its theatrical debut on October 27th, alongside a streaming debut on Peacock the same day.

'Five Nights At Freddy’s' Review: Great On Paper, Bad Execution
Five Nights at Freddy’s / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The film, Five Nights At Freddy’s, realises some fan favourite aspects of the lore like Spring Bonnie and William Afton, who is not even a character. The film expects you to come into it with a predetermined idea of these characters so that they don’t have to do any of the work, in that this is just a continuation of the lore you already have in your head.

What many thought would be the best part of the movie in William Afton (Matthew Lillard) actually ends up being the worst acting of the movie, Lillard gives a disjointed and confusing performance: likely due to poor direction from Emma Tammi because nobody actually knows what these characters are supposed to act like.

Josh Hutcherson, playing troubled security guard Mike Schmidt, comes in and reads his lines whilst putting in an actual shift, but it falls flat in a movie that can’t get anything else right. Hutcherson looks great on screen and despite the main relationship of Mike and his sister Abby (Piper Rubio) feeling forced, them together is a highlight.

It is a rushed mess that is a bunch of nonsense with one goal which is to get to a moment the fans will like – seeing a character they love (or at least the version of them that exists in their heads) walking around and talking in a movie. Even when that comes to fruition, the dialogue from writers Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback and Emma Tammi is so empty that even their motivations appear senseless.

Characters change their minds every other scene and main ones we’re supposed to be attached to barely appear; not even having an actual character conveys exactly what they want people to do with this movie. Look! It’s Freddy Fazbear! (Who is actually the animatronic with the least screen time!? The film is named after him!)

'Five Nights At Freddy’s' Review: Great On Paper, Bad Execution
Five Nights at Freddy’s / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

If there ever was a lesson in why show don’t tell is a bad thing, this movie is a key realisation of that. The most significant aspect of this movie, the reason why there are walking animatronics, is only ever spoken about. We never see any events of the past or actually learn how any of this is happening.

Once again, it expects that you already have your own accepted answers for these so that the film does not have to put any work in. As many would expect from a video game adaptation, the animatronics do many of their iconic moves from the games such as standing around, slowly walking and intimidating stares.

None of the traits that distinguish these robots are ever shown or even alluded to, they all have the same goal and move in the same way – even if some might be expected to be more agile. All of the characterisation for these animatronics is done through child actors Grant Feely, Asher Colton Spence, David Huston Doty, Liam Hendrix and Jophielle Love, four of which are silent for the whole film and one which only speaks for a few moments (Grant Feely) and never talks about anything that isn’t related to Mike.

However, none of the kids actually match the animatronic that they’re supposedly inhabiting – some even have mismatched colours (when there is a clear attempt at some colour co-ordination)! 

You may be wondering. If the film doesn’t put the work into fleshing things out and crafting compelling stories, where does it go? Nowhere. The horror in this film is given for concept only. The allusions to murder and the very few terrible action scenes we get are lucky to be featured under this tag.

'Five Nights At Freddy’s' Review: Great On Paper, Bad Execution
Five Nights at Freddy’s / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

There is no build up and everything rushes at you, completely removing any scariness and making it clear that horror is not their approach immediately. The few scenes that actually have any action are terribly done, with offscreen kills and poorly acted ‘moving around’ as the animatronic simply touch characters.

With their limited movement, it’s incredibly hard to feel that these animatronic are actually any threat, and they are not. There is an undeniable lack of tension, every scene unfolds so quickly and rushes to mention things that every game fan would get instead of trying to actually make anything of quality or tense.

Even when faced with the main villain, there is a sense of relief as the audience knows this character is incapable of doing anything past a few kicks and lifting people up.

Ultimately, it comes across as more of a fan film that tries to replicate a few fan favourite moments attached by a half hearted story and nonsensical killing. I’m sure this sounded great on paper, but perhaps getting a game maker to write a movie script was the wrong move in the first place.

This only gets the stars that it does because of my gun attachment to the franchise, I have no idea how any non-fans will get anything from this. Five Nights At Freddy’s leaves you grateful you won’t be there the whole week; you leave relieved that you can go back to thinking about and discussing your own much better ideas for the story.

'Five Nights At Freddy’s' Review: Great On Paper, Bad Execution
Five Nights at Freddy’s / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Five Nights At Freddy’s is directed by Emma Tammi. Written by Scott Cawthon, Emma Tammi and Seth Cuddeback. Starring Josh Hutcherson, Piper Rubio, Elizabeth Lail, Matthew Lillard, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kat Conner Sterling, David Lind, Christian Stokes and Joseph Poliquin. All images courtesy of Universal Pictures.

This review was written by guest writer Lewis, with additional content courtesy of Sameer R.

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