"Five Nights at Freddy's" and Knowing Your Audience
This week, theaters around the globe welcomed one of the most highly anticipated films of the year in the form of Blumhouse's Five Night at Freddy's. A film based on one of the most successful video game franchises of all time by developer, Scott Cawthon. Attempting to adapt a story as iconic as FNAF is a challenge, one that Blumhouse and director, Emma Tammi felt they were ready to conquer, but did they succeed? Did the film really live up to audience expectations?
For those who aren't familiar, Five Nights at Freddy's is a horror game franchise by Scott Cawthon. The first game was released in 2014 and since, there have been nine more installments, including multiple books. FNAF is infamous for its extensive lore that can take literal hours to explain, so for the sake of brevity, a cursory summary is that you are playing as a security guard, trying to survive five nights at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, avoiding four animatronic robots possessed by the spirits of children who were murdered by the restaurant's founder. Keep in mind, this review will be from the perspective of someone who grew up enjoying these games and the lore.
While being one of the most anticipated films of the year, FNAF has also managed to be arguably the most divisive. The reviews so far have been absolutely baffling, with a critic score of 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89% audience score. In short, fans love it, critics loathe it, and I can't say I fully agree with either of these extremes. I doubt anybody at Blumhouse is complaining about reviews though, considering that the film has managed to gross six times its budget half a week into its theatrical run.
It doesn't really make sense to me to judge at film like Five Nights at Freddy's based on its critic score because at the end of the day, that's clearly not who it was made for. FNAF was always, first and foremost, for the fans, the ones who have stuck with the series for over a decade. This makes FNAF a very difficult movie to judge effectively. If you're a film snob who prefers a good Bergman or Scorsese flick, this definitely isn't the movie for you, and that's okay.
Five Nights at Freddy's seems to have just as many good aspects as it does bad, so let's start with the good. The animatronics looks absolutely amazing and that seems to be the one thing audiences can agree on, whether they liked the movie or not. They're identical to the ones in the game and you can tell just how much thought and effort went into their design. I also enjoyed the lead performance by Josh Hutcherson, his character had a lot of depth and a clear motive. The production design of the pizzeria is also very strong and immersive. Matthew Lillard also gives a great performance but hey, what else is new? For longtime fans of the games, there were plenty of easter eggs scattered throughout for the eagle-eyed viewer. It was also a very pleasant surprise to see MatPat from Game Theory make a cameo and deliver his iconic catchphrase. To anyone unfamiliar with the series this might have seemed innocuous, but the entire audience in my theater erupted in applause as soon as he appeared. The end credits song being The Living Tombstone's song also led to another instance of audience uproar.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Lail and Piper Rubio give sub-par performances and the film tends to suffer from questionable pacing. There were various moments throughout the movie where I found myself bored, which I never thought would be the case. Every single FNAF game relies on jumpscares to drive home the horror aspect and they're simply just weren't enough. There also was quite a bit of backlash to the film being rated PG-13, when a lot of people would have preferred it to be rated R, but for the sake of the box office, that was never going to happen, especially since FNAF has a sizeable young fanbase.
However, the biggest issue that I and many others have with Five Nights at Freddy's is its loose interpretation of the franchise's lore. This normally would be a non-issue with any other video game movie but the very reason FNAF maintained its popularity over the years was because of the cryptic story, told very sparingly throughout the games. Even if you play just for a couple moments of fun, there's no doubt that the mythos of FNAF is just as important as the games themselves. Five Nights at Freddy's would absolutely be getting more praise from fans if it had been more faithful to Scott Cawthon's original story.
Video game film adaptations tend to be, well...terrible. The genre doesn't exactly have a very good track record but in comparison to all the rest, Five Nights at Freddy's is definitely one of the less egregious. Overall, there's plenty to enjoy here whether you're a longtime fan, a parent, or someone who just wanted to check out a new movie. And with how successful it has been at the box office so far, the chances of a sequel are pretty much inevitable, so I doubt this is the last we will see of Freddy and his gang on the big screen...