A disappointing adaptation: “Five Nights at Freddy’s” lacks identity and scares

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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. - Arts & Entertainment / Al Harmon

“Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF)” continues the downward spiral of video game adaptations onto the big screen. The film is riddled with jump scares, subplots, and uninspired dialogue; the film doesn’t take advantage of the eerie atmosphere that worked for the game, and it fails to find its identity due to its PG-13 rating, which limits the possibilities of what can be shown.

The film, which was released on Peacock on Oct. 26 and in theaters the very next day, is about a security officer named Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), who is struggling to find a job to keep social services from taking away his 10-year-old sister Abby Schmidt (Piper Rubio). While speaking with career counselor Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard), he gets offered an overnight security position at a rundown Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, that featured animatronic animals. This sounds like a simple plot, but the film then overcomplicates it by adding the custody battle between Mike and his aunt Jan (Mary Stuart Masterson). 

Josh Hutcherson in Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023). – Photo via IMDb

FNAF also adds another subplot, in which Mike is going into his dreams and searching his repressed memories to find clues about his younger brother’s kidnapping while dealing with ghost children, and all the while the main problem is dealing with animatronics coming to life and wanting to take his sister. These subplots feel as though they were made to pad out the runtime and feel forced when the film tries to weave them into the main plot.  

Scott Cawthon, the creator of the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” video game series, co-wrote the screenplay along with director Emma Tammi. While the lore of the series is given proper respect, the dialogue and creepy moments fall by the wayside. Hutcherson gives a very bland performance, everything he says feels lifeless, while all the other characters at least seem to be having some sort of fun with the material. What’s most egregious is the overreliance on jump scares. Now, the video game is all about the jump scares, but what made that successful was the way it gradually built tension. In the film, the jump scares came at such a frequent rate that one could see them coming. 

Josh Hutcherson and Elizabeth Lail in Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023)– Photo via IMDb

It’s a shame such potential was wasted, because the sets look like they were ripped straight from the video game, and the animatronics look genuinely unsettling. The animatronics were made by Jim Hensen’s Creature Shop, who you may recognize for their work on “Sesame Street,” “The Dark Crystal,” and “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).” The animatronics do have a creep factor to them, but they aren’t used well enough to foster substantial fright. At one point the animatronics take out some intruders, but the PG-13 rating limits what can be seen. A film doesn’t have to be rated R to be terrifying, but if the film is going to give a body count, then it should try to elevate those moments with some unsettling imagery instead of doing it off-camera. 

Matthew Lillard in Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023). – Photo via IMDb

This film has some good ideas, but the execution falls flat. It’s yet another film that includes ghost children, a trope that has been used a million times already. The animatronics and sets are amazingly crafted, but their potential is wasted, and the story is predictable with a reveal someone will predict from the beginning. “Five Nights at Freddy’s” may please the die-hard fans, but as a supernatural horror film, it’s just another lackluster waste of time. 

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