Review: Five Nights at Freddy’s

Title card for the video game based movie 'Five Nights at Freddy's.' (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

As we left the theatre playing the much-anticipated Five Nights at Freddy’s, my friend Brandon turned to me and, in a statement much more eloquent and efficient than the following paragraphs, said “What a great movie… for a fucking five-year-old.”

Before I slip into a ball of white-hot fury, it should be noted that there are some positives to the FNAF movie, notably, the ritual slaughter and gutting of the established lore helped everything flow a bit more. Severing some familial relations, introducing late series characters and pushing around motivations renders the film at least tangentially cohesive. Also, Matthew Lillard is pretty fun to watch for his allotted five minutes of screentime and the actual animatronics themselves look pretty good! One model in particular that makes its appearance near the end looks absolutely exceptional. 

With that out of the way, Five Nights at Freddy’s is a cinematic nothing burger. It is a movie that has turned me into the kind of film critic that gets angry about innocuous things like plot holes and narrative plausibility.  

Characters that are close to our lovely protagonist, the same actor that plays Peeta Mellark, will just die and go unacknowledged. For instance, a close family friend who offered to babysit his young sister for free gets killed and he does not notice or care in the slightest. On top of that, there is a random reveal where she turns out to be a bad guy. Why is she the bad guy? How long has he known her? How long has she been hired? There are so many questions but none of the characters’ relationships are established beyond the most bare bones of D&D-esque exposition. Every plan put forward, every choice, every act these people do is completely crushed under the weight of constant reveals that serve to ignore everything that came five minutes prior for fan service and easter eggs. 

William Afton, the villain of both the games and movie, is actually incredibly accurate to the original canon in that he is nothing more than a flaccid nothing with zero motivations or presence spouting catchphrases like “I always come back.” It’s the first movie, he hasn’t had a goddamn chance to come back yet!

The film is a mess of constant references. It’s Multiverse of Madness with somehow even worse writing. The plot, the characters, the scenes, the constant jumping around of tone, the lack of genre, all exist merely so that’s smelly gamers mansplain which animatronic is which to their equally smelly friends. There’s even a Scream reference where a character does the stupid hand knife clean swipe thing and it’s beyond stupid. I get why they did it. I just hate it.

I wish this had a genre or some semblance of structure, this isn’t to imply plotless or strangely structured films are bad. On the Beach at Night Alone, Fallen Angels, Barton Fink, all are films where basically nothing happens but through great writing, direction, atmosphere, style, and a sprinkling of personality, of actual human touch and passion elevate them into enthralling experiences. FNAF is just bad.

It’s not a mystery because there is nothing to solve, all the clues and answers fall into District 12’s traumatized chamption’s lap when the plot demands it. It’s not a horror because it’s impossibly unscary. It’s not a 90s flubber-esque family comedy despite a few scenes indicating that. It’s not a slasher because of the few deaths. No gore, no fun, no plot, no acting, just a bunch of passive characters pretending to be active while a shitty script has the characters regurgitating Wattpad-adjacent dialog and awkwardly stumbling around for nearly two hours.

Finally, annoying people have their Black Panther. Silver linings, I suppose.