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Review: ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ is Flawed but Forgivable

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Growing up, this writer enjoyed shows like Little Monsters and Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark. However, at 10 or 11 years old, my interest grew into more intense horror films like Scream. Attending Five Nights at Freddy’s brought back memories of these early experiences. While Little Monsters, Goosebumps, and Are You Afraid of the Dark may not be considered classical horror or memorable adult entertainment, they provide a gateway for children to practice bravery.

Five Nights at Freddy’s is a horror movie that is a decent introduction to the genre for younger audiences. Despite its flaws, such as pacing problems, rough dialogue, and a predictable storyline, Five Nights at Freddy’s understands its audience. The Emma Tammi-directed adaptation may have some issues, but it still manages to be an enjoyable and silly movie for those just starting to explore horror films.

[Warning: Spoilers from Five Nights at Freddy’s are below!]

The story in Five Nights at Freddy’s

The film was written by Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback, and Emma TammiChris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre also share story credit. The script follows Mike (played by Josh Hutcherson), a young adult who cares for his sister Abby (Piper Rubio). It is unclear what happened to their parents. However, as a brother and father figure to Abby, Mike works as a security guard to provide a stable life for them. After a misunderstanding at his job, where he handles mall security, he is forced to work as a security guard at an abandoned pizza restaurant.

Josh Hutcherson and Piper Rubio in Five Nights at Freddy's. (Universal)
Josh Hutcherson and Piper Rubio in Five Nights at Freddy’s. (Universal)

In the film, we meet Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard), a job counselor who provides job information to Mike. Raglan explains to him that the pizza place, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, is a building of nostalgia to the owner, and he takes great care to preserve it. The movie then shifts to Mike, who watches the building from the surveillance room. And just like the videogame, strange occurrences begin to happen. Mike starts to have nightmares about children and objects seem to be moving for no reason, such as a friendly robotic animatronic bear.

Five Nights at Freddy’s delivers fun and practical scares

The scenes in the diner are highly entertaining, especially those featuring animatronics. The Freddy Fazbear band was brought to life by the Jim Henson Company, and the use of practical effects was a delightful surprise. It’s hard not to appreciate this movie, especially after seeing Josh Hutcherson attacked by a ruthless and murderous cupcake.

The movie’s visual style is almost identical to the video game, with its dark, shadowy atmosphere, purple-ish hues, and places for things to hide. The televisions flicker, and the lights glitch nonstop, with television monitors teasing dangers in the security footage. Marc Fisichella perfectly captures the game’s visual feel through his production design, which brings the environment to life. The script, however, could have used a tad more renovation, like the film’s setting.

Extremely flawed but forgivable film from Universal Studios

There are some valid criticisms of the Blumhouse adaptation of the video game. Throughout the storyline of Five Nights at Freddy’s, the pace of the experience is often interrupted. The film is mostly an exciting and suspenseful ride when it focuses on the animatronics hunting people in the pizza diner. However, when introducing the subplot involving Mike and his dreams about ghost children, the story takes a needless turn. This shift in the narrative unnecessarily slows down the pace of the movie. Streamlining the ghostly interactions within the confines of the creepy Chuck E. Cheese diner (instead of the dream world) would maintain momentum without any abrupt story changes.

Foxy, Chica, Freddy Fazbear and Bonnie in Five Nights at Freddy's.
Foxy, Chica, Freddy Fazbear, and Bonnie in Five Nights at Freddy’s. (Universal)

The plot conveniences in Five Nights at Freddy’s are ridiculous, just like the idea of evil robot animals in a pizza diner. The protagonist, Mike, has a backstory involving his brother’s childhood abduction. This tragedy connects to the events in the movie, but how it all ties together seems so coincidental that it might distract some viewers from the story.

The movie is ridiculously predictable. Without saying too much, a third-act reveal is designed to be a big twist. At the very least, it was poorly executed if it was made to be deceptive. However, the audience that came to the screening ate the reveal like Halloween candy. The reveal is a fanservice moment, which will be great for them and a slog for most newcomers.

Elizabeth Lail plays Vanessa, a police officer, in the movie. Unfortunately, her character’s role is reduced to an expositional NPC who only serves to provide information to the main character. The character writing is a shame, as Lail is a talented actress with a strong screen presence, as evidenced by her work in Netflix’s You. Despite these issues, some might argue that all these flaws are forgivable.

A passable horror movie for beginners

As stated, kid-friendly horror that is flawed yet still forgivable is a nostalgic notion. Goosebumps stories weren’t revolutionary by any means, but at age 10, R.L. Stine was a childhood version of Stephen King, no matter how contrived or predictable. The Five Nights at Freddy’s movie has a simple story, a committed cast, and some decent jump scares. This writer argues that the film deftly balances welcoming a younger audience into the horror movie pantheon by giving them a taste of the spooks without causing outright trauma.

Old-school, kid-friendly horror films like Little Monsters also fall under the same category. Although the film is not perfect, and most people have forgotten about it in 2023, it brought practical effects and a simple story that served as an accessible introduction for kids to watch scary movies. After attending a screening this week, it was observable that the kids in the audience were having a great time and even applauding in places as if it were a Marvel movie.

The movie Five Nights at Freddy’s is not exceptional, but it’s not terrible either. It can be considered average at best. However, it can still be a source of entertainment for adults and parents who have children with adventurous spirits. It could even spark an interest in horror for some children.

My rating for this film

★★ 1/2 / ♥♥

Five Nights at Freddy’s is currently in theaters and streaming on Peacock. Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you plan on checking this film out!

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John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

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