Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Five Nights at Freddy's: A Review (Review #1769)



I am old enough to remember the Chuck-E-Cheese band that terrified many an impressionable youngster, though I myself was not. I figure those animatronic horrors inspired the video game Five Nights at Freddy's, which is now a feature film. A film that has more atmosphere than true horror, Five Nights at Freddy's is surprisingly tame but entertaining.

Young Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutchinson) is at the end of his rope. Floundering both emotionally and financially, he loses his latest job as a security guard after violently attacking a man he thought was a child abductor. Turns out the man he beat within an inch of his life was the boy's father. Mike's career counselor Steve Ragland (Matthew Lillard) notes his name and appears curiously interested, but won't say why. Steve has yet another security job for him, though away from the public.

Mike does not want it, but he needs to take it. He is the sole guardian of his much younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio), who is taciturn and communicates mostly through drawing. Their Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) is forever breathing down Mike's neck, determined to take custody of Abby. Leaving Abby in the care of longsuffering babysitter Max (Kat Conner Sterling), Mike goes to his new overnight job.

He now watches over Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria, a now defunct family pizza joint and arcade that was closed after a series of child disappearances. Mike is pretty convinced that this will be a mostly boring, quiet place. However, there are the very creepy audio animatronic figures that play at random. There is also local cop Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), who seems to know more about Freddy's and Mike than she lets on.

At least she is not conspiring against Mike, unlike Aunty Jane. She hired Max to be a spy, and now got some thugs to try and trash Freddy's in an effort to have Mike lose his job. Jokes on the thugs, for Freddy's is very much alive and murderous. Abby, now going with Mike after Max's disappearance, surprisingly becomes friends with the various living robots. This only worries Mike more, and soon fears for all their lives. Who are the children who appear in Mike's dream? Will Mike be free of his guilt over the disappearance of his baby brother Garrett decades ago? Who or what is Yellow Rabbit? Will everyone survive those Five Nights at Freddy's? 

Given that the last video game I played was Donkey Kong, I can admit to never having heard of Five Nights at Freddy's. As such, I was unfamiliar with the source material. The positive, if I can use that word, about the screenplay from Seth Cuddeback, director Emma Tammi game creator Scott Cawthon (from a story by Cawthon, Chris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre) is that I was not lost in the telling. A nice info dump via a Freddy's training video filled me in on the pizzeria. The film allows for Mike's trauma to play out, explaining his irrational behavior. It gives us simple, direct details about the various characters and does not care about plot.

The film almost delights in not following up on things. Max's disappearance is not remarked on by anyone. Same goes for Hank (Christian Stokes), one of the goons Aunt Jane had hired who meets a somewhat grisly end. A mild spoiler alert: if you cannot figure out who the actual villain in the film is, note that the "biggest" name actor in the film cannot just be in one scene. Another mild spoiler alert: an antagonist is I presume killed by one of the auto animatronic figures who somehow leaves Freddy's easily and that too is never mentioned. I say "presume" because it seems strange not to mention or even ask about a potential corpse just lying around. 

Logic, however, is not the point of Five Nights at Freddy's. To be honest, I am not sure that true horror is either. The film is surprisingly tame with its violence. Only once would I say that I found things a bit gruesome. Five Nights at Freddy's is PG-13, and it earns that rating. Perhaps others, particular fans of the game, might be disappointed in the lack of gore. I was not.

I cannot say that there are any performances in Five Nights at Freddy's. It is nice to see Josh Hutcherson back. I would say he did as good as the material let him. He certainly worked hard to make Mike's guilt and angst believable. Same with Lail's Vanessa, who at times looked a bit blank. I did not care for Rubio's Abby, who came across as a bit obnoxious rather than troubled. Masterson and Lillard are so much better than the material, the former more so. I imagine that this was a job, and they did not fully commit but were happy to be there. 

Five Nights at Freddy's does not ask much from me as a viewer. We get very basic storytelling that does not wear out its welcome, even if it pushes two hours. I found the film fine, acceptable, neither horrible nor wonderful. I find little to praise or condemn. As such, you can spend Five Nights at Freddy's aware that it is mildly entertaining, though it won't have you Talking in Your Sleep.

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