By Isaac Espinosa
On August 8, 2014, the indie game scene was changed forever by things that go bump in the night. In what seemed to be the magnum opus for game developer Scott Cawthon, Five Nights at Freddy’s released unto the world. And since that fateful day, the name of this iconic horror franchise has become ingrained in not just the horror game fandom, but in the internet itself. It’s no surprise that Five Nights at Freddy’s was unique in many elements, included but not limited to its story telling, intense sound design, and claustrophobic gameplay loop. But does the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie, released on October 27th of this year, live up to the legacy the franchise has created up? Or does the game it’s based on leave the film in the dust?
Before even getting to any ounce of what the movie had to offer, it needs to be established what grand expectations were put onto the potential film even prior to pre-production. Back in April of 2015, around a month after FNAF 3 was released, Warner Bros. announced that they had acquired the film rights in order to create the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie. This development through Warner Bros. wouldn’t last, however, as it was announced two years later in March 2017 that Blumhouse Productions were taking the film into their hands. With the kind of reputation Blumhouse has had for horror films, this decision got fans plenty excited for what the FNAF Movie would offer.
Add the announcement in 2021 that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was working on the animatronic characters, and hype was through the roof. These were the people that made The Muppets! How could fans not be excited? With the May 16th teaser, fans got a glimpse of the fruits of eight years of development – and a release date! Needless to say, the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie had a lot to live up to. But I had a good feeling about it.
The story of the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie loosely follows the story of the first game, albeit with tweaks and changes that made it deeper. We follow Mike Schmidt, an older brother who must, after tragedy, take care of little sister Abby. And in walking through Mike’s life, it’s clear: he’s not that great of a worker. In fact, he gets fired a lot. In order to keep his sister in his custody and not leave Abby to their terrible Aunt Jane, Mike needs a stable job that’ll look good in the face of the judges in a courtroom. His career counselor Steve Raglan has an odd job recommendation for Mike: A security gig in a broken down pizzeria that the owner is just too sentimental to sell: Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza Place.
Mike has no other options, and takes the job as a security guard, where he has to simply make sure no one gets into the pizzeria at night. This simple premise isn’t as easy as it seems, as multiple strange experiences and the arrival of a suspiciously-nice police officer named Vanessa shows Mike that Fazbear’s may have some mysterious history to it. With what’s at stake for Abby, even with these mysterious occurrences, Mike must survive five nights at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza Place and its rundown, creepy animatronic animals. If you don’t know, the animals are a dark riff on the Chuck E. Cheese restaurants (created by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell).
First off, the pacing and overall story felt wonderfully consistent and sophisticated. At no point did it feel like the director and actors were speeding towards a finish line or not taking the script seriously. From the beginning when we meet Mike to the final moments, the nearly two-hour story is really well thought out, and longer than the game, which only lasts about an hour – if you don’t make any mistakes or die.
Every element used from the game translates perfectly into the movie. The ominous vibe of the pizzeria lit by video games and pinball machines, the menacing and claustrophobic aura of its halls and corridors, and the looming dread of how the mystery will unfold: all these create the right amount of tension and terror-filled atmosphere. This is all emphasized even further with the animatronics of the eerie, funny-animal band, who aside from looking incredibly scary, really express their unique behaviors well with their movements. Bonnie, with his upfront and outwardly aggressive nature, Chica and Mr. Cupcake (yes, it’s an angry cupcake) with their effective tag team attacks, and Freddy with his limited but well choreographed movements. And of course, my personal favorite animatronic is Foxy. His uncharacteristic style of cornering people, and the way that he almost hunts down unsuspecting innocents, makes Foxy stand out in a much more menacing way that his compatriots. Each time Foxy clambered toward his prey, I was completely affected, completely scared.
Despite everything I’ve already praised, the critic scores declare this movie as nothing special. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes have an aggregate score of a measly 20%. Even with their lackluster credibility, it does raise some questions. What ARE the problems with the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie? To some, a notable issue comes from how the movie isn’t an entirely accurate depiction of what the games are. To be clearer, they rail about the inability for, say, Mike, to move and having to locate the animatronics using only a security camera system on limited power, a prime game feature. But in my eyes, this is to the movie’s benefit. If you really wanted a single player experience, play the games on Steam, which are all ready to download at any time. There’s no reason to limit the movie with just sticking to the game, which would undoubtedly take away a lot of the movie-makers’ creative freedom. To me, it makes a lot of sense for the movie to do it’s own thing because the story can be enhanced with a deft, linear story arc.
Another common complaint comes from how the movie almost feels like it isn’t for the average movie viewer. Rather, it’s something only a Five Nights at Freddy’s fan can enjoy. And while I highly disagree with this sentiment due to how the movie has a lot of horror-oriented elements that any enjoyer of the genre would love, it brings up an interesting question. Is it really a bad thing for a video game movie to take its fanbase seriously? After all, fans like myself understood the importance of doing this movie right and respecting the original game. Eight years is a long time to wait for a movie, especially for a franchise you care about so deeply. With all of the small Easter eggs, cameos, and surprising twists that came from the film, it’s clear that everyone producing it had the fans in mind from the start. To me, there’s no problem with a mindset like this.
As of writing this review, the Five Nights at Freddy’s Movie was reported to have made over $130 million worldwide, and it’s still rising. This not only makes it the biggest-ever film with a simultaneous streaming release, (on Peacock on the same day as theatres). But it also now holds the title as the third best opening weekend for a horror movie of all time. The only movies to beat it out in that department were the original It in 2017, and It: Chapter Two in 2019. More than any other review or low score it could get, it’s all the more clear from the overall box office reception that the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie was a monumental success. As a very big fan of the franchise myself, every year waiting for news on the movie felt like an eternity, so much so that upon watching the initial teaser in May, it truly felt like a dream come true. Now that the dream is reality, I can only wait eagerly for the second installment, which was teased at the end of the film.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a Member at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Along with being named the Circle’s first assistant Mentor, Isaac also published his first story in The Verge.
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