There are few cultural fixtures as bizarre as “Five Nights at Freddy’s”. Starting in 2014 as a phone and PC game developed by a single person, the indie series was elevated to its current smash-hit status by YouTube content creators like Markiplier and MatPat. This virality has led to numerous games, spinoffs, novels, and now a massively successful movie adaptation. And for better or for worse, the series’ film adaptation embraces the simplistic nature of the early games.
The movie revolves around Mike Schmidt, played by Josh Hutcherson. Based on the protagonist from the first game, Mike reluctantly takes a job as a security guard at the defunct Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. The once family-friendly Chuck-E-Cheese-inspired arcade is now haunted by killer animatronics of humanoid animals. Mike eventually discovers that his younger brother’s traumatizing disappearance years ago is somehow linked to the restaurant. Abby, his younger sister who is played by Piper Rubio, helps to solve the mystery while beginning to befriend the robots.
The screenplay, penned in part by the games’ creator, Scott Cawthon, is expectedly strange. And while the movie acknowledges the absurdity of the franchise’s premise, it takes questionable steps to expand the story. Most of the series’ gameplay takes place in an office looking at a wall of camera feeds, so several original characters and plotlines are added to make the movie watchable. The result is mixed; the new character Abby is a delight, but a plotline about her brother and aunt’s custody battle over her goes nowhere.
The performances are hit-or-miss. Josh Hutcherson is plenty compelling, as is Piper Rubio. But some others are quite strange – Mary Stuart Masterson and Matthew Lillard (both of whom play antagonists) are both so much hammier than the rest of the cast.
The movie’s tone, as a result, is confused. While the scares hit as intended, the fractured mood dilutes the suspense. In the span of minutes, the film will go from horror to campy comedy.
The film’s tone is just all over the place, trying to be too much at once. It transitions from a silly romp about killer robots who are actually just misunderstood, to a reference-filled love letter to fans, to an adequate horror movie. Unfortunately, it can’t be all three.
As credits roll, the viral song, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” by rock band The Living Tombstone plays. In it, a warbled voice sings, “Five Nights At Freddy’s – is this where you want to be?” The answer is no.