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Release Date: 10/27/23 [Cinemas / Peacock]
Genre: Horror. Mystery. Thriller.

Studio: Universal Pictures. 

"A troubled security guard begins working at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. 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." 


“Just keep your eyes on the monitor.”


The film adaptation of the popular game franchise Five Nights At Freddy's (for shorthand purposes, FNAF) is finally here. This film comes from director Emma Tammi, her third feature film, and was co-written by Tammi, Seth Cuddeback, and FNAF creator Scott Cawthon. Josh Hutcherson stars as Mike, a guy who has trouble holding a job and difficulty sleeping and is in desperate need of some structure so he can maintain custody of his young sister Abby (Piper Rubio). Mike accepts a job as a night security guard at a run-down family restaurant, Freddy Fazbear's, where Mike soon learns that his duties aren't only keeping the riff-raff out. He must also deal with the inhabitants of the restaurant, a group of animatronic characters that spring to life and cause trouble for unsuspecting intruders. This cast is small, with the supporting characters of Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), a cop who has inexplicably large amounts of free time on her night shift to come hang out when Mike is on the clock, and Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) who is Mike's aunt that is battling with him over custody for Abby. Lastly, the criminally underused Matthew Lillard plays Steve, a career counselor who sets Mike up with the security gig. 


I went into this film knowing the absolute bare bones about FNAF. I have never played a minute of the games, but I have a daughter who loves them. The limited exposure from that helped me to understand the basics enough to realize what fans liked about this franchise. FNAF is a game with jump scares, and it became a staple on such platforms as Steam and Twitch, where participants can be voyeurs, a lot like the security guards in the game, and watch other people play through. I know there is lore that grows with each game and novel released; I did my best YouTube research to catch myself up. 


FNAF skews toward the younger crowd which was surprising. The bare essentials I picked up from the lore suggest a tale of horror that grows darker and darker with each entry. Coupled with the fact that the first FNAF came out nearly a decade ago, the decision to make this a PG-13 film is an interesting choice, as the assumption was that this film would be aimed at an audience a bit older. But we're in a different situation. The screening I had was a mixed bag of patrons of varying ages, but an overwhelming majority of people in the theater were children. I had to double-check my ticket stub to ensure I was in the proper theater and not a kid's flick. 


Despite that, I was hopeful because while I wasn't a FNAF academic, there have been other movie adaptations from properties I was otherwise unfamiliar with that I ended up enjoying. Having grown up in the '80s and '90s and having birthdays at Chuck-E-Cheese's, this movie was engineered for me. And yet, when the credits rolled, the film didn't captivate me the way it was intended to; I just wanted to see animatronics be scary. I'll have to keep waiting.


The issue with FNAF wasn't that it was aimed toward a younger crowd; in fact, I found it very accessible for all ages. The film is just languid and boring. Instead of presenting a scary, chilling tale of monstrous robots, the movie spends most of its run time with Mike and his family drama. We are given at least 6 to 7 dream/flashback sequences of Mike looking for his brother. This plot point is supposed to set up a mystery that not only stays in low gear the entire time to the point of frustration but is so painfully telegraphed that I deduced the ending before the halfway point of the film. 


The cast, while talented, knows they're in a sluggish family drama masked as an exciting horror film as they don't do much. Josh Hutcherson carries the film the best he can, and while it was good to see him again, his character Mike is written with limited places to go. Matthew Lillard is great, but his little screen time softens his impact. The animatronics of the Freddy Fazbear characters look great. The Jim Henson company worked well on these to make them practical. Unfortunately, they aren't given much to do either. There is one fun scene in this entire film about halfway through that makes good on what people came to see. It is a creepy sequence that ends with a pretty effective kill, but even that is obscured because of the PG-13 constraints. I mentioned jump scares earlier. The games this film is based on are loaded with jump scares, and it became a massive part of its appeal. I have grown cold toward jump scares over the last decade as they've evolved into a crutch for many horror movies to the point of staleness. Surprisingly, this FNAF film has no genuine jump scares at all. There are jump scare attempts, including a recurring one that is more of a parody and is quite humorous. But the irony is that in a horror film market saturated by this trope, the one movie I expected, no, hoped, would be scary has no jump scares whatsoever. 


I will concede that I do not have the deep knowledge of FNAF lore that many superfans going into this film have. Therefore, I am sure there are bits and pieces of design, props, and dialogue that went right over my head. There are two YouTuber cameos, one of which is fun and that I recognized, that are known in the FNAF community because of the content they've made regarding these games. These nuggets are fine, and I am ok with not getting everything. The hope is that this type of film will serve enough to win over new people and drop enough goodies for the existing fans. This film did not win me over, But easy-to-spot references aside, I'll be curious to see how the devout FNAF fanbase will accept this film.


I was disappointed that FNAF never quite got up and going except for the sequence in the middle and a bit at the end. The superfans probably will accept this movie, enjoy it, and allow it to make a profit. Maybe an inevitable sequel will finally deliver the film I hoped this movie would be so I can eventually join in on the fun.

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