I did a lot of things this weekend; I took a six-hour Amtrak ride to Washington, D.C., nearly fell into the Potomac in the wee morning hours, and almost took the Metro into Virginia instead of back into D.C.—but somehow seeing the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (FNAF) movie, released on Oct. 27, was simultaneously the most and least exciting part of my weekend.
I won’t spend too long going into the lore of FNAF—mostly because I don’t actually understand it myself. When I texted my younger sister to ask her to catch me up to speed, she promptly called to laugh at me. She also reminded me that it was six in the morning in L.A., and she needed at least eight hours to explain the lore of the first six (SIX?) games to me, not including all the books and the brand new game-plus-DLC. So I can’t tell you what happens in the games, though I’ve been reliably told that the movies are less-than-game-accurate. Still, I’ll attempt to give you a basic rundown of FNAF.
Released on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, via Desura, FNAF was indie game developer Scott Cawthorn’s last-ditch attempt at creating a hit. While previously Cawthorn had worked on family-friendly, Christian games like Chipper & Sons (2013), FNAF was born out of a multitude of Steam comments telling him that the polygonal, 3D figures that populated his games were horror-franchise-worthy.
And for the first time in forever, the Steam commenters were right. FNAF rose to popular acclaim and rapidly became a sensation in online communities. More than one popular YouTube video game creator can attribute their rise to stardom to a FNAF playthrough like Game Theory and Markiplier. Coasting off of this success, Cawthorn would go on to create eight more games on his own, before allowing studio Steel Wool to take the reins for the franchise’s second phase—which kicked off with Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach (2021). The franchise would also go on to birth a whopping twenty-eight (and counting) books, eight of which belong to a non-canonical anthology horror series, titled “Tales from the Pizzaplex.”
The latest release in this juggernaut of indie video game horror is an arguably more high-budget project: a long-awaited movie adaptation, produced by horror movie darling Blumhouse (“Get Out” (2017), “Whiplash” (2014), etc.), starring none other than Josh Hutcherson, of “Hunger Games” (2012) fame.
The rights for the FNAF movie hopped around for a bit. It changed production studios, moving from Warner Bros to Blumhouse, and also switched directors, with Emma Tammi directing the final film, instead of “Monster House” (2006) director Gil Keenan. While the movie adaptation was announced back in 2015, thanks to delays like these, it took almost eight years for the film to hit the big screen.
Was it worth the wait? Not really. The FNAF movie fails to find a good balance between cute and creepy, heartwarming and bloodcurdling. The writing is hamfisted at best, and some of the moments in the film are truly cringeworthy. At one point, Abby (Piper Rubio), Mike’s (Josh Hutcherson) younger sister, forces Mike, police officer Vanessa, (Elizabeth Lail), and the animatronic band—Freddy (a bear), Bonnie (a rabbit), Chica (a bib-wearing, cupcake carrying chicken), and Foxy (a pirate fox)—to build a fort in the middle of the abandoned pizza parlor at night. (Haha, get it? Fort at night? Fortnite? Because FNAF was in Fortnite? No?). After said fort is completed, this motley crew lies down on the ground (gross, considering that the parlor was abandoned in the 80s) and stares into the ceiling/sky/sunset.
The core of the story revolves around Mike and his quest to figure out who abducted his younger brother Garrett (Lucas Grant) nearly a decade ago. Meanwhile, Mike’s inability to keep a job puts him in danger of losing custody of his younger sister Abby to their money-hungry aunt, who just wants the accompanying government check. Meanwhile Abby, who is a quiet and soft-spoken little girl, is inexplicably haunted by the spirits of the murdered children who inhabit the animatronic band at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. There’s a real Faustian bargain moment about halfway through the movie, where Mike—who has taken up a job as a security guard at the abandoned pizzeria—offers up Abby to the aforementioned ghost children, in exchange for finally figuring out who it was that took Garrett.
Obviously, he regrets this instantly. And then we move to what I assume was meant to be an extremely tense final showdown between Mike and the animatronics after they abduct Abby from their home. Except, surprise—the man who murdered the kids in the ’80s just so happens to be the same guy who kidnapped Garrett all those years ago. The entire sequence just ends up being incredibly corny. I have a fairly weak stomach for horror, but I can’t recall being scared even once during the entirety of the final showdown.
Matthew Lillard—“Scream” (1999)—plays the series’ iconic villain, William Afton, AKA Springtrap. Of course, when we see him in this movie it’s pre-Springtrap. Instead, Afton is positioned as a very obviously suspicious career counselor who offers Mike the job at Freddy Fazbear’s following the loss of Mike’s previous job as a mall security guard. Lillard really tries. He really, really tries to make the most of what is, ultimately, a very lackluster script. Unfortunately, not even Lillard’s acting chops could save the insanely predictable and corny reveal at the very end of the movie.
And that’s really the running theme with the FNAF movie. Hutcherson is a great actor; we know that he can act. He’s been proving that to us since he was in “Bridge to Terabithia” (2007). But the FNAF movie can’t seem to decide what it wants to do with its source material, and it shows nowhere as strongly as it does in the script. Cheesy, lazy writing, and plot holes abound, and while the movie is clearly trying to cater to the franchise’s existing fans, there’s only so much a two-minute cameo, where YouTuber MatPat delivers his signature catchphrase, “It’s just a theory!” can do for this sad, struggling script.
If you’re going to watch the FNAF movie do yourself a favor and just watch it on Peacock. There are plenty of reasons to watch it: if you’re a fan of the games, or if you want to see the frankly excellent animatronics the Jim Henson Design Company whipped up for the film. But try to think of the plot as being camp. There’s no other way to muscle through it. I probably would’ve enjoyed the movie a lot more if I’d just done that.
Final Rating: 2/5 slices of imitation Chuck-E-Cheese pizza.
Nicole Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.