Directed by: Emma Tammi
Written by: Emma Tammi, Setch Cuddeback, Scott Cawthorn
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Piper Rubio, Elizabeth Lail, Matthew Lillard, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kat Conner Sterling
Synopsis (IMDb): A troubled security guard begins working at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. During his first night on the job, he realizes that the night shift won’t be so easy to get through. Pretty soon he will unveil what actually happened at Freddy’s.
LIGHT SPOILERS FOR THE GAME FRANCHISE AND FILM BELOW
As someone who watched a lot of playthroughs on YouTube, I have become vastly aware of Five Nights at Freddy’s and the expansive lore surrounding the story and characters. Five Nights at Freddy’s is more than just a horror game–it’s a full horror immersive experience with a backstory that places the characters in the 1980s and scaring kids and adults until present day. There are all kinds of possessed animatronics to defeat, from the titular Freddy to Balloon Boy, to animatronic/human hybrids like Springtrap and Vanny. All of it ties back to William Afton, the serial killing character at the center of it all.
If you’re confused after this paragraph, that makes sense–the lore of Five Nights at Freddy’s is murky at best, disparate and illogical at worst. There are a lot of moving parts (no pun intended) and making a film around those parts is no easy task. But somehow, director/co-writer Emma Tammi and writers Seth Cuddeback and Scott Cawthorn (who created the Five Night at Freddy’s franchise) managed to cobble together those disparate parts and create an acceptable storyline that non-video game plebs can follow.
With that said, while I am glad they only pulled out the most important parts of the video game’s storyline, I think the film showcases how and why the full Five Nights at Freddy’s lore doesn’t actually work as a fully-fledged story. One thing that the film reveals is that when you tell the story in a chronological order, the story doesn’t actually hold up, at least not to me. One of the reasons why Five Nights at Freddy’s works as a game series is because it’s told out of order–your character is in present day, and over the course of the games (and books), you learn all of the backstory, side stories and more. For the video game franchise, knowing the lore is more important than putting it all in order. In other words, the sum of the story’s parts equals less than when those parts are separate and all over the place.
A disparate lore creates the sense of mystery that makes the animatronics way scarier than they actually are. In fact, the first game was so successful because there wasn’t really any lore at all–all you knew was you had to survive the night against these murderous robots because Chuck-E-Cheese robots are inherently scary, not to mention said robots in a closed-down restaurant at night. But once you bring those robots out into the light, you realize they aren’t that scary at all–creepy, maybe, but you realize there’s not much to it. The film is the equivalent to bringing those characters out into the light.
Plotholes have always existed in the Freddy’s lore, but we could overlook them because the characters are scary, and that’s all that matters for the game. But when you’re trying to make a movie around these characters, certain big questions come up. For instance–why would Afton go to the lengths of creating animatronics just to kill kids? How is he able to come back from the brink of death (or beyond death) to become Springtrap? Why do the animatronics want to kill other people if they are in need of being freed from their spiritual pain? The film doesn’t really answer these questions, but because a film requires certain logical steps in telling cogent story, the film falls apart a little bit.
Another way it falls apart is because it’s just not scary enough. Since the original Five Nights at Freddy’s scared me beyond belief, I was expecting this film to go all out in its gore and jumpscares. But for some reason, the film pulls back. Maybe it’s because the franchise has become synonymous with kids, ironically. The franchise has a huge child and adolescent fanbase, and to cater to that fanbase, the film has to be at a rating they can actually watch it with or without parental supervision. At PG-13, you can have some scares, but you don’t get all the scares the film needs in order to live up to the hype of the original game.
In fact, opportunities when the film could have indulged in some jumpscares and fear are purposefully tamped down–main character Mike (Josh Hutcherson) is attacked multiple times in his dreams by the kids trapped in the animatronics. But instead of us seeing Foxy, Freddy, Chica and Bonnie attacking him in reality, we see the kids using their hands to clamp down on Mike’s arms and legs, slashing him with their fingers. We see the aftermath of the cuts, but it would have been scarier to see the actual animatronics attacking him in the control room, with him having to outrun them, instead of us seeing kids attack him.
With all of this said, I give kudos to the writers and director for actually boiling things down into a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. Doing such with this franchise was a gargantuan task, and I feel they did a great job with what they had. But, the fact that Cawthorn himself was part of the writing team but couldn’t properly fill some of these plotholes with some more lore or some type of connective tissue is troubling, to say the least. For me, I think that shows just how much the franchise relies more on lore and less on story.
I think for future Freddy’s films, lore will continue to come into play, but the enjoyment of those films might have diminishing returns the more the story has to rely solely on what fans know to fill in the gaps the films can’t provide. Even so, with all of the problems, as a fan of the franchise, I am interested to see what else future films could do. If they can build on the scares and give more of a satisfying experience, that would be great. As it stands now, Five Nights at Freddy’s the movie is fit for kids–a good thing for the franchise’s base and money-making opportunities, but bad when it comes to actually being scary.