My initial impression of Blumhouse Productions' "Five Nights at Freddy's" film, first announced in 2015, falls in line with my take on other movies based on video games-turned-internet culture icons in that they are many years too late to capitalize on a trend.
The closest comparison I can think to make is to Sony Pictures' 2016 title "The Angry Birds Movie," but to lend NBCUniversal a shred of credit, the "Five Nights at Freddy's" franchise holds markedly more relevance now in 2023 than "Angry Birds" ever did in any year past 2012. Though I'm willing to assume the thought process behind each company's thought process for signing the rights to a film adaptation of its source material was more or less the same.
If you'd believe it, the circumstances behind the production of the "Five Nights at Freddy's" film are somehow more muddled than that of "The Angry Birds Movie."
Although "Five Nights at Freddy's" was announced to be in production by Warner Bros. Pictures, the film fell into production limbo, cycled through different writers and directors before finally being released on Friday in theaters and on distributor NBCUniversal's streaming service Peacock.
This has been quite the year for Universal in terms of video game-related films, with both "Five Nights at Freddy's" and "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" releasing mere months apart, and shockingly, I found many of my criticisms toward the former also applied to the latter.
Although, the "Five Nights at Freddy's" franchise falls into an odd place when one is examining it from a story perspective. From the surface, the game's plots appear incredibly simple and borderline arbitrary. The series is famous for its deep world-building and lore, spanning not only the games but also other forms of media, such as novels.
Many online celebrities arguably owe a large portion of their success to being early figures in the "Five Nights at Freddy's" community, with Matthew Patrick, host of "Game Theory," making a cameo midway through the film.
Speaking as somebody who was right in the intended age demographic around the time of "Five Nights at Freddy's" meteoric rise and, therefore, a fan of the series for many years, my attitude now toward the game's debatably intricate lore is fairly negative.
The speculation has grown to the point of feeling as though series creator Scott Cawthon didn't really have an intended storyline for the series, so much as he littered each game with esoteric yet marginally related symbols and waited for the community to come up with a rational explanation, so he could pretend it was all planned.
So, examining the "Five Nights at Freddy's" film from a strictly objective angle, not trying to read into any theory, the film is frankly disappointing. The plot of any individual "Five Nights at Freddy's" game is nowhere near involved enough on its own to constitute a film's runtime, so the movie is instead a somewhat faithful recreation of the original game's story, but with some heavy creative liberties taken.
All players knew about the original "Five Nights at Freddy's" premise was that you played as a security guard named Mike Schmidt, who was the night shift guard at "Freddy Fazbear's Pizza," a Chuck E. Cheese's-esque dining establishment for children.
The restaurant's animatronics came to life at night and attempted to kill Mike ostensibly due to a mechanical issue incorrectly identifying him as an endoskeleton needing to be placed back into its costume.
The story remains more or less the same as its film counterpart, but a lot of context is added prior to the start of the titular five nights. Here, Mike is a middle-aged security guard suffering from a traumatic past following the abduction of his brother Garett at a young age and now takes care of his younger sister Abby. But Mike's estranged aunt Jane feels he is unfit to properly provide for Abby and is insistent on receiving her custody.
The biggest fault with "Five Nights at Freddy's" is how silly the subject matter is and how little the film seems to be aware of this fact. The majority of it is played incredibly straight, which on its own would be fine, except that its subject matter has become so incredibly entrenched in internet meme culture that I can't take any of the film's animatronic foes seriously.
This issue is in combination with the antagonist's motivations being two-dimensional and, like the robots, coming off as laughably cheesy. There's a point in the movie when Jane hires a group of teenagers to vandalize the establishment in the hopes that it will get Mike fired and force Abby's custody to be transferred to her.
If there are any positives I can highlight, it's definitely the visuals and production value. Rather than be rendered in CGI, the animatronics were actually electronic puppets produced by the renowned Jim Henson's Creature Shop. This leads to the animatronics themselves coming off as incredibly lifelike, as they were quite literally brought to life.
Overall, I would rate "Five Nights at Freddy's" a 4 out of 10. The puppeteering work is phenomenal, but I hope Hollywood eventually realizes that not everything has to be adapted into a movie.