The Five Nights at Freddy’s movie was released on Peacock on October 26, 2023, and began its theatrical run a day later. Based on the popular series of horror games, Five Nights at Freddy’s brings the fictional pizza chain and haunted animatronics to a new medium. Read Anna Ward’s article “Things to Know Before Watching the New Five Nights at Freddy’s Movie” to learn more. My film review is coming from someone who was into the fan theories and lore of the video games. The first game came out almost ten years ago when I was in middle school. I followed along as players and video essayists dissected the new releases but fell off around when the VR game Help Wanted was released. For me, watching the Five Nights at Freddy’s was engaging with my adolescent interests.
When my friends and I arrived at the local theater, the trailers had already started, and the line was out the door. The movie drew in a diverse crowd. There were college students and older as well as middle school students and younger. Many were dressed as popular characters from the franchise, and others were just trying to stave off the cold. After twenty minutes, we reached the front of the line, got our tickets, and managed to get four seats next to each other. Because of our poor timing, we missed the first ten minutes of the movie, sitting down as the opening credits played. Apparently, we did not miss much, as the movie still made sense without that opening sequence.
As one can tell from the trailers, the animatronics and set are incredible. Freddy, Bonnie, Foxy, and Chica are very faithful to their in-game appearances. The animatronics were made possible by collaborating with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, with multiple puppeteers operating the suits. Their real-life mass makes their threat more tangible, and the way they lumber adds to their uncanniness. The animatronics roam Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, which is a physical building constructed specifically for this film. Because of that, the setting has dimension, with multiple rooms and exits. Each set is fully fleshed out with furniture, knick-knacks and traces of human life from before the restaurant shut down. The multi-monitor security setup we frequently see the main character in is a loyal recreation of the security office from the first game. The peripheral rooms, such as the storage room, are dingy and eerie, with abandoned animatronics and cleaning supplies filling the space. Due to this film’s commitment to practical effects and fleshed-out environmental design, the Pizzeria is immersive and its inhabitants uncanny.
An aspect of the movie I did not expect from this movie was the mysterious cinematography. Five Nights at Freddy’s cinematographer is Lyn Moncrief, who has worked on Blumhouse Productions before and received awards for his work in The Sublime and Beautiful (2014) and Snowflake (2014). Some shots were claustrophobic or had the figure unnaturally centered, almost looking at the audience. When the main character was in a trance, the camerawork matched to add to the semi-lucid feeling. One shot took the point of view of Freddy Fazbear, showing how pathetic the main character is in comparison. These scenes also had intriguing lighting setups, from the neons and failing fluorescents of the Pizzeria, to the overcast haze of a forest. When the movie makes these interesting cinematographic choices, the tone of the scene is elevated.
The Five Nights at Freddy’s movie succeeded in humanizing the faceless protagonist of the first game. Mike Schmidt is the name that appears on the paycheck you receive once you finish the first game. Here, he is searching for a job to keep custody of his little sister, who is witty and charming. Mike is also haunted by the memory of his brother being kidnapped when they were kids. These plot points act as the motivation for his character and make him more sympathetic. Technically, the movie Mike Schmidt bastardizes the lore of the games. I, however, was not expecting the movie to stick to the lore of the games anyway since the lore of Five Nights at Freddy’s is bullsh*t. Instead, Mike Schmidt’s story fits within the world of Five Nights at Freddy’s rather than copying the convoluted mythos from the rest of the series. Surprisingly, Mike’s conflicts and incentives were what kept me invested in the movie.
The film did suffer from irrelevant, confusing plot lines and a lack of scare factor. Too much time is spent on characters other than Mike and his sister, building up drama rather than suspense. Culprit number one being Vanessa. Vanessa is a character from Security Breach who is out of place in this story about the first entry in Five Nights at Freddy’s. Her characterization is all over the place. To make a long description short, she exemplifies NPC behavior. The screen time spent on weak character writing takes away from the horror of this horror movie. Jump scares are the only scary parts of this movie. There are a few moments of gore, but frankly, the games are not gory. Rather, the games’ strengths are the tension it creates in the player, as the player’s goal is to prevent an attack using very limited controls. The movie, however, barely has time to emulate gameplay and tends to kill the tension before it pays off. While parts of the movie are unsettling, it frequently misses the opportunity to instill fear.
Obviously, the creators of the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie had fun while making it. The title sequence was created in an 8-bit style, mimicking the lore cutscenes from the video games. Mike watches a training video on his first night at Freddy’s, which is an excellent, diegetic way of introducing unfamiliar audiences to the premise of the games, while also being cheesy and silly. The famed Five Nights at Freddy’s theorist Matthew Patrick, known as MatPat, cameos in the film, even dropping his iconic catchphrase. As the credits role, arguably the most popular song in the Five Nights at Freddy’s fandom, “Five Nights at Freddy’s 1 Song” by The Living Tombstone plays. At the end of the credits is a secret audio message, the same audio file from one of the games. These elements show the creator’s appreciation for the source material and the fanbase, made possible by not taking themselves too seriously.
My final verdict? I liked the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie! I thought it was fun and had some strong technical execution. If I compare it to other nostalgic, licensed movies that have come out this year, if Barbie is the best The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the worst, and Five Nights at Freddy’s is in the middle. In multiple categories, I have good things to say about it, but it also has major flaws. I must give a warning about the audience. When I saw the movie, there were kids shrieking and using their flash, as well as high schoolers having a conversation the whole time. This film may attract audience members with poor theater etiquette, so fine-tune your viewing plans to account for that. If you want to riff over the movie, oh my god, do not go to a theater! Anyway, I believe people unfamiliar with the franchise have a higher barrier to enjoying the film, as well as fans with high standards and strict interpretations of the Five Nights at Freddy’s lore. If you fall between these two extremes, consider seeing the movie for fun, rather than for scares.