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Review: ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ is a tempered adaptation for fans and novices alike

‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ is based on a videogame that follows a nightwatchman tasked with protecting animatronics

A scene from 'Five Nights at Freddy’s’ courtesy of © Universal Pictures
A scene from 'Five Nights at Freddy’s’ courtesy of © Universal Pictures

‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ is based on a videogame that follows a nightwatchman tasked with protecting a group of animatronics from outsiders… and themselves.

Since the moving picture’s inception, there’s been frequent crossover between entertainment mediums because they use similar methods of storytelling. Books and comics are regularly adapted into films and TV shows as transferring the written word to the screen has always felt natural. Later, video games became the inspiration for features and series. So often creating its own story world, it only makes sense to transport those characters and narratives to a larger audience. There have been several recent successes that emboldened studios to pursue more of these types of projects with Five Nights at Freddy’s being the latest video game to get the big screen treatment.

Following the deaths of their parents, Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson) has struggled with being the adult in the family and raising his much younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio). Unfortunately, he can’t keep a job and their horrible Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) is threatening to sue Mike for custody. Desperate to prove he’s fit to be a guardian, Mike takes his career counsellor’s (Matthew Lillard) advice and accepts what seems like a simple night security job at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza Place, a formerly popular kid’s restaurant. The old animatronics still haunt the building, but it’s not just gears and programming keeping them going — they’re possessed by the spirits of dead children who have now befriended Abby and will do anything for a new permanent playmate.

The Five Nights at Freddy’s series has been enjoyed by gamers for nearly a decade, creating big expectations for this movie. Those who haven’t played may not notice the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the picture or the cameos by YouTubers and Twitch streamers, but they’re there for avid fans and won’t diminish the experience of newcomers. Whether you know nothing or everything about the franchise, the movie works as a creepy tale of killer robots and twisted trauma. While Mike is trying to understand the connection between a past tragedy and his new assignment, a local cop named Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) keeps him on his toes with her nightly check-ins.

The first act is introductory, setting up Mike’s and Abby’s situations — him buckling under stress, and her escaping into her drawings and fantasies. The second act explores Freddy Fazbear’s, presenting the animatronic crew: Freddy, Foxy, Bonnie, Chica and Mr. Cupcake with special, amusing appearances by Balloon Boy. The final act is the eerie culmination of all the disturbing things that preceded it, forcing the human characters to confront their nightmares and a terror that’s gripped the town for decades. The only real caveat is the horror is diluted since the film needed to maintain a PG rating for maximum box office.

Based on the whoops and hollers of the audience, director Emma Tammi does more than appease game players excited to see these characters in a feature narrative. For those lacking that connection, it still plays as a fun, undemanding yet unsettling story that just needed to work on its jump scares.

Director: Emma Tammi
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Piper Rubio and Elizabeth Lail

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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