“Five Nights at Freddy’s” – Zoinks.
When I was a kid, one of my television staples was Scooby-Doo. I always enjoyed how Scooby and the gang would get chased around by ghosts or witches while trying to solve whatever mystery they had been asked to solve. I didn’t care for the end of each episode, since the reveal of the villain always took away the supernatural part of the mystery, but the episodes as a whole were always fun. Five Nights at Freddy’s is essentially an episode of Scooby-Doo, except for being short one Great Dane with the munchies.
Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson) is living a bit of a tough life. He works as a mall security guard, takes care of his adolescent sister Abby (Piper Rubio), is fighting off his greedy Aunt Jane for custody of Abby, and believes he can use his dreams to identify the person who, years earlier, abducted his younger brother Garrett. After getting fired from his job for assaulting a man at the mall he thought was kidnapping a kid, he visits career counselor Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard) for job prospects. After initially refusing a job as night security guard at the dilapidated and abandoned Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza because Mike can’t work nights, Mike accepts the position to stave off Aunt Jane.
If you have played any of the Five Nights at Freddy’s games, you realize the previous paragraph describes something very, very loosely based on the game. Which makes sense. The game is nothing more than a night security guard trying to survive a night in the pizzeria while murderous animatronics kill any humans they find. To describe that plot as a bit thin is to say the ocean is a bit damp. Movies generally need more plot than that, though the John Wick franchise begs to differ.
For all you FNaF (this is the only time I will ever use that awful acronym) fans worried the film won’t lean into the game’s premise, you can relax. Freddy’s opens with Mike’s predecessor at Freddy’s being slaughtered by your favorite murder-bots. A little while later, we’ll watch a bunch of thugs – hired by Aunt Jane to trash the place in an attempt to get Mike fired – meet their PG-13 ends. Yeah, sorry, this film is rated PG-13, so don’t expect to actually see any grisly murders or bloodshed. Mike will also spend some time hiding and running from the bots, but a lot less than time you hope.
During Mike’s first night, he spends the majority of his time napping in his continual effort to plumb his dreams for Garrett’s abductor. However, the dream is different than usual. Five children he’s never seen before show up, confusing Mike. Mike assumes the kids saw the abductor, but when he starts to ask them about it, they all run away. On night two, the same thing happens, but when he gets close to the children, they attack him. He wakes up with a gash on his arm, pointed out to him by police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail). After Vanessa treats the wound, she shows him around the restaurant while telling him that Freddy’s closed after five children were murdered there. Between that and the fact that Mike’s dreams have been invaded by those same five children, we’ve got a supernatural murder mystery. Please pass the Scooby-snacks.
In a confounding decision by the writers, night three features Abby befriending the murder-bots and introducing them to Mike. Night four is even sillier, as Mike, Abby, and Vanessa build a table and chair fort with the bots, basically having a slumber party with them. What is happening? This isn’t scary at all. We are deep into Mystery Machine territory at this point.
In its closing act, the movie heads toward its fifth and final night. I appreciate that the five nights Mike spends at Freddy’s happens organically rather than because of some contrived deadline or curse. What I don’t appreciate is how predictably the final act plays out due to either poor acting, directing, or writing. One or more of those is responsible for Vanessa behaving suspiciously in literally every scene she’s in. Ditto for Steve Raglan in his one scene up to this point. And since we learn that the robots are possessed by the ghosts of the five murdered children, we know they can’t be acting on their own. All that’s left now is for the killer to be unmasked. And yes, the real killer will be unmasked, and yes, it happens because of those meddling kids.
From what I heard from other audience members after the film concluded was that the film featured a ton of callbacks and easter eggs for the fans. And they seemed to be happy with it. For those of us that aren’t fanboys, we were less than thrilled. The film never commits to anything. It’s kind of a slasher flick, except it’s also kind of a kid’s movie, except it might be a murder mystery. Regardless of which, it was also a depressing film. A film about murderous Country Bear / Chuck-E-Cheese / Show-Biz analogues should be fun, if not funny, to watch. Freddy’s definitely did not have a sense of humor that it was aware of, though it is unintentionally funny that Lillard’s career has become almost entirely comprised of Scooby-Doo work (eleven films and fifty-two television episodes in the last six years). Zoinks is right.
Rating: You should ask for seventeen dollars back…even if you are fanboy.