“Hey Abby, are they…”
“Of course they’re ghosts, how else could get the bodies to move.”
So, I had no idea what I was walking into with this film. I guess I missed the boat on this franchise. I don’t know where I was, but prior to this film being added to my docket, I hadn’t heard that it was a film adaptation of a video game franchise of some repute. This was clarified for me when I pulled up in the movie theater parking a lot and saw someone donning a mask for one of the game’s prominent characters. After educating myself, I now know that Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNaF) is a video game series consisting of nine video games taking place in locations connected to a fictional family pizza restaurant franchise named “Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza”, after its mascot, the animatronic bear Freddy Fazbear. In most games, the player assumes the role of a nighttime employee, who must utilize tools such as security cameras, lights, doors, and vents to defend themselves against animatronic characters who inhabit the locations and become mobile and hostile at night. This video game series has gone on to inspire other media, such as a novel trilogy and an anthology series, comprising an all-encompassing fictional universe. The franchise maintains an active fanbase, known for its production of fan art and fan games, and merchandise for the games is available internationally. As I said, I had no clue about this series’ impact. However, after watching the film and listening to response of the crowd, I’d say that it will be a welcome addition to the illustrious franchise.
Josh Hutcherson portrays Mike Schmidt, an original character from the game series. Mike is a troubled character with a traumatic past. Struggling to maintain employment while also serving as the guardian for his younger sister, he reluctantly accepts a job as a nighttime security guard at the defunct Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Further complicating Mike’s life, social services threaten to remove Abby from his care and transfer custody over to his estranged aunt Jane, due to concerns of Mike’s emotional stress. In between shifts, Mike obsessively attempts to solve the disappearance of his younger brother, who was abducted during a family camping trip.
Not long after beginning work, Mike observes strange happenings at the pizzeria, all surrounding the restaurant’s animatronic mascots. The deeper he digs, he begins to learn horrible secrets behind the business’s closure, as well as his own personal connection to it, which threaten his life as well as his family’s.
This film is right in the wheelhouse that we’ve come to expect from Blumhouse Productions. Though I did have some doubts going in once I heard that it was a film about animatronic characters. That idea made me skeptical regarding the film’s potential as a supernatural horror, but strangely, it works. It in a nutshell embraces the idea of an evil Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. Aiding in the success of this idea is the backstory behind the animatronic characters, which was reportedly lifted from the third game, which retroactively established that the animatronics are actually possessed by spirits of children murdered by the film’s antagonist. The weaving of this backstory into the overall plot is a huge part of what made the movie interesting and kept me engaged. Additionally, the inclusion of Mike’s personal connection upped the suspense factor. Hutcherson carried this role well, balancing moments of the downtrodden, establishing him as the everyman you root for, and desperation as he tries to solve the mystery has haunted him since childhood. Piper Rubio’s performance as Abby gives the film moments of lightheartedness and humor, as despite her age she at times seems to be the most sensible person in the film given the adults’ propensity for rashness.
In regards to whether the film is faithful to its source material: while there are some alterations to certain characters’ backstories, the film seemed to honor the spirit of the franchise based on my research and my observation of the crowd’s reaction to the film. Ironically, there was a moment when the crowd roared at the appearance of a certain character, which led me to believe that the person had some significance in the game. However, I’ve come to learn that had more to do with the person portraying the role (YouTuber CoryxKenshin) than the character itself.
The quality of the story makes up for the lack of terror that the film induced. Part of the allure for horror movies for me is that they are the cinematic equivalent of a haunted house. Nevertheless, despite a few scenes intended to make you jump (which I did not), there were no real panic-inducing moments. Despite this, the pacing, story quality, and lighthearted humor are more than enough to make the film enjoyable experience.
An interesting choice was the decision to employ Jim Henson’s creature shop rather than use CGI to bring the animatronic creatures to life. Good choice if you ask me; gave things a more authentic feel from my perspective. An even more interesting tidbit: For shots where the characters weren’t moving, the puppeteers would control both the head and body movements. In the rare instances where a character would walk or dance, a stunt performer would don the costume, while the puppeteers controlled the heads remotely. All in all, it gave the interactions a more authentic vibe.