The Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise is a media sensation, with video games, books, and more to support its millions of fans. And those fans have been eager to see their favorite animatronic puppets slash up the big screen for nearly a decade, with names such as Chris Columbus, Seth Grahame-Smith, and Gil Kenan involved at various stages. But the film finally arrives The Wind filmmaker Emma Tammi at the helm, and at a time when video game adaptations are in something of a golden stretch. How could this one not join the club?
Well, it doesn’t. In rather spectacular fashion, the cheese has slid off the pizza of Five Nights at Freddy’s, a plodding, morose bore that misses what people love about the games. Here’s a hint: It’s not watching a dull, mopey Josh Hutcherson as night security guard and all-around screwup Mike Schmidt. A classic “his own worst enemy” kind of guy, Mike is trying to turn his life around so as not to lose custody of his little sister, Abby (Piper Rubio), a creative but lonely kid who loves to draw and chats with imaginary friends. See, Mike has a tragic backstory involving the disappearance of his younger brother Garrett (Lucas Grant), who he was in charge of looking after. Garrett was never seen again, and Mike can’t stop dreaming about that day. He uses sleep medication to heighten those dreams in hopes of finding clues to the kidnapper’s whereabouts.
Unfortunatly, the movie spens the bulk of its time wading through this dark mystery. And by wading, I mean paddiling through thick mud, because that’s what it feels like everytime we’re in another of Mike’s flashbacks. When do the puppets start killing folks? Well, it actually happens pretty early; not long after Mike takes a desperation gig as night security at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a rundown, abandoned family fun center ala Chuck E. Cheese and Showbiz Pizza. But after those initial, gore-free murders by Freddy, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy, there is absolutely no violence in this movie to speak of. I can see why at the screening I attended, parents had zero qualms bringing their kids to the movie because there were plenty of them.
This doesn’t at all feel like a Blumhouse production. Blumhouse usually has their finger on the pulse of what horror fans want, and surely they didn’t think they wanted this all-ages, family-friendly Five Nights at Freddy’s? A large portion of the film finds Mike and Abby hanging out with the animatronics, singing songs and building a literal fort to hang out in. It’s all kinda bizarre, but not scary or even creepy. Then there’s the sudden arrival of Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), a police officer with a connection to Freddy’s and a strange interest in Mike. Not that the bloody arm he has when she first meets him “interests” her as a cop or anything. Nah, she looks past that. Nor when she finds out he was sleeping on the job, shortly before Freddy’s is broken into, does she do what any other cop would do and arrest this dumbass.
Mike is woefully uninteresting, and Hutcherson isn’t charismatic enough to make us forget it. If he cracks a smile in this movie it must’ve been when my face was buried in popcorn, or when I was struggling to stay awake, because this is a terribly glum performance. What happened to the actor that everyone used to swoon after in The Hunger Games? Hutcherson still looks half his age, but playing an adult has been a rough transition.
Five Nights at Freddy’s has been in the works for so long, it was actually beat out by a better film with the same plot. In 2021, Nicolas Cage starred in Willy’s Wonderland, in which he plays a mysterious drifter working overnight at the titular pizza joint where the animatronic animals spring to life and start murdering fools. It’s not great by any means, but Cage is having a blast and the filmmakers, who admited drawing inspiration from Five Nights at Freddy’s, at least knew that a premise this silly should be treated as such.
Obviously, I’m urging you to steer clear of Five Nights at Freddy’s, but at least you won’t have to pay for it if you’re a Peacock subscriber. The film is available now on that streaming service as well as in theaters.