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October 27, 2023 / Universal Pictures Canada

Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Matthew Lillard, Elizabeth Lail, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kat Conner Sterling

Directed By: Emma Tammi

Desperate single father Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson) takes a job as a night-time security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a children’s diner that was hugely successful in the 1980s. The diner was known for its animatronics that would sing songs and interact with the children.

When children started to go missing after being at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, the police searched the place top to bottom, but never found the children — who now possess the animatronics. Mike realizes that the night shift will not be an easy one to get through, as the animatronics aim to make Mike’s daughter like them.

Written By Darren

Rating 1.5 out of 5

Five Nights at Freddy’s may only be for fans of the popular video game, as the film lacks the scares or kills that the trailers promised, spinning a lackluster and frustrating story that overstays its welcome that won’t entertain newcomers to the franchise.

Blumhouse knows how to make great horror movies, delivering tingling and campy experiences with only a PG-13 rating that tests the limits of the rating classification. One needs to only look at this year’s M3GAN as a prime example. They seemed like the perfect studio to bring to life the popular video game franchise about killer animatronics in an abandoned pizza restaurant. And while the trailers promised a campy and violent time, the actual film itself not only fails to deliver on this promise, but it’s one of the dullest films I have unfortunately seen this year. Light on violence, virtually no jump scares, and a story that takes too long to get interesting, it’s like they are more interested in cashing in on the success of the video game rather than creating the next breakout horror hit.

Mike is down on his luck security guard, fighting to provide for his younger sister Abby, which forces him to take a night time security job. The job: watching over the abandoned Freddy Fazebear’s Pizza restaurant, which has been abandoned for decades. However, Mike soon begins to discover that there is something sinister happening at Freddy’s and that there is a secret as to why it closed, all tied to Freddy Fazebear and his friends: the animatronic mascots of the restaurant.

Without question, the animatronics used to create Freddy and his friends for the big screen is flawless and the highlight of the entire film. Capturing a creepy and unsettling life likeness that cannot be genuinely reproduced by CGI, the gigantic robotics creating these characters are exceptional. Their robotic tendencies, the eerie stillness of their eyes after their eyelashes close and open, and the unnatural rhythms to the movements captures the disturbing nature of these characters, teasing something far more sinister underneath the persona of these animals. It’s a great addition to create the uneasy atmosphere of the film, but sadly, the rest of the film cannot match the wonderful design of these characters.

For a movie about killer animatronics, the film is very lacking in the kills department. The majority of the kills happen off screen, implying the violence rather than showing it, and the violence it does show is very tame. Seeing what can be done with a PG-13 rating these days, the film purposely stayed clear of what they could have done with the rating classification with both the violence, and in the scares category. It makes the film feel like a missed opportunity both as a horror film and a slasher, as it never fully delivers on either of those genres. Instead, it plays it far too safe, creating a film that younger audiences can watch with ease, targeting those younger viewers who have played the video games. While you can applaud Blumhouse for making what can be called a gateway horror film to introduce younger viewers to the genre, compared to gateway horror films of past decades like Gremlins and Poltergeist, that have created fans of the genre for years, Five Nights at Freddy’s just doesn’t have the same terror value that will have younger viewers interested in scaring themselves any further.

The story itself is rather dull, overstaying its welcome with a runtime of almost two hours. Instead of a fun slasher film or the investigation into the mysterious occurrences at the restaurant, the film is more concerned with Mike’s past trauma and him coping with it in the present. While I am always supportive of characters being developed and given backstories, the film fixates on this and forgets about the terror of Freddy Fazebear’s Pizza for too long; there are only so many times you can watch the same iteration of Mike’s nightmares. Had there been a better balance between Mike’s past, the mystery around what happened at Freddy Fazebear’s Pizza, and the murderous tendencies of the characters at the pizza restaurant, with a tighter paced film, this could have been something fun for newcomers to the series. Though, there are lots of easter eggs for fans of the video games who will no doubt have a fun time watching this film.

Leading the film is Josh Hutcherson, and while I am normally a fan of his, he didn’t wow me with his performance. His character calls for a quiet, somber depression as he sleep walks through the film, which Hutcherson does well, but he leans too heavily into this. It causes his character to miss some more human moments with his younger sister and Vanessa, that would have helped bolster the story as there would have been more personal stakes at play. Elizabeth Lail is sparingly used as Vanessa, but she brings a great sense of mystery and intrigue to her performance which does wonder for her scenes. And young Piper Rubio is adorable as Abby, having some truly sweet moments with Freddy and his friends, that though they feel out of place in the story that this movie wanted to be, will no doubt have you letting out an aw in pure cuteness.

If there is one performance that I can say was truly good, it was Matthew Lillard as Steve Raglan. Seeing Lillard back to his horror roots was fun, and he makes the most of his screen time. He captures an unsettling energy while on screen, building the suspense of what is happening at the abandoned pizza restaurant at the same time as begging the question of what he is hiding from Mike. While he is great, Lillard sadly only has two scenes in the film and the film fails to make use of his talents and create a truly fascinating character, despite the potential for it being there given the role he plays in the overall story.

While it’s making massive waves at the box office, no doubt from the dedicated fans of the video game series, those who have not played the games are certain to have a different experience with Five Nights at Freddy’s. Void of the campy slasher vibes the trailers teased, with virtually no scares throughout the film, the dull and unfocused story misses the mark and renders Five Nights at Freddy’s another humdrum video game adaptation.

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