Movie Review: Five Nights at Freddy’s

This film has a promising concept and basis for success but fails in nearly every way.


Doing these movie reviews is quite fun indeed. It’s nice to go out to the cinema to see the latest flick and there have been several this year that are right up my alley. With that said, I have a full-on life and this is a watch blog first and foremost, so the movie reviews don’t always get done on time. I missed the mark on this one, eh?

With that out of the way, it’s time to turn our attention back to the box office, and October meant it was ‘spooky’ season. While Halloween means little here in the UK other than a chance to collect sweets (not ‘candy’) in plastic pumpkins or get ourselves heroically sloshed in fancy dress, for the movie world, it meant horror season, and that meant the release of Five Nights at Freddy’s, along with various other horror flicks. Of course, now it’s November, and Mariah Carey’s annual thawing out for the holidays is nearly complete; the ex-retail worker in me shudders at the horror.

From this point on expect plot spoilers and personal opinions

The Five Nights at Freddy’s name first appeared on the scene in 2014 with the release of the first game: Five Nights at Freddy’s (for those that are completely unaware of this phenomenon, we’re not talking about Freddy Kreuger here). This fairly simplistic indie game sets the player in a Chuck-e-Cheese-esque pizzeria as the night guard who must defend themself against the pizzeria’s animatronic mascots, which come alive at night. If the player succeeds, they automatically roll onto the next night with the difficulty and number of mascots active increasing; if they fail and let the mascots into their room, they would get jump scared. Jump scares are the basic premise of these games, although they have gotten more advanced in recent years with virtual reality and fully immersive 3D games as well.

You have to give the franchise’s creator, Scott Cawthon, credit where it’s due. Going from a small game you worked on all by yourself to an undoubtedly multi-million dollar franchise is pretty spectacular. As well as ten main games, there are also books, minigames, comics, merchandising and now this, a full-on movie.

It’s worth pointing out that there’s absolutely loads of fan-made content for Five Nights at Freddy’s. An endless slew of tribute games, music and short films indicates a fanbase’s love for a franchise. It reflects on an active audience, but it does create a minefield for the original creators if they want to branch out into something different. I would imagine it was difficult for the writers and producers to clearly outline what they wanted and decide how to make this work without looking like it’s copying its own fan material.

The movie follows the night guard you play in the first game, Mike Schmidt (portrayed by Josh Hutcherson (The Polar Express, The Hunger Games franchise)), who seems like a bit of an explosive loser. The film quickly establishes that he’s traumatised by the kidnapping of his brother, and he’s also solely responsible for his younger sister. Like, really traumatised, the film repeats this point to the extreme, as we’ll see later on. Just to throw everything in there, he’s also fighting his aunt (played by Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) for custody rights over his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio – Holly & Ivy – For All Mankind). The ‘evil aunt’ thing isn’t new, but that’s okay. It doesn’t make a film less watchable unless it’s handled badly, so I’m neutral on this for Five Nights at Freddy’s.

Mike lands himself the job of night watchman at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza after beating the living daylights out of a guy as a mall security guard when he thought the man was about to kidnap a child, as it turns out the man was the child’s father, and so Mike gets fired. Mike’s Career Counselor, Steve Raglan, played by Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo, The Descendants), suggests the Pizzeria, and with no other options, Mike accepts. His first night is uneventful, except his recurring nightmare about his younger brother being kidnapped changes slightly to have five other mysterious kids who apparently saw what happened but run away before he can ask them any questions.

The second night sees Mike get a visit from the friendly local beat officer, Vanessa Shelley (Elizabeth Lail – Once Upon a Time, Robot Chicken), who mysteriously knows a lot about what happened at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza in the past, including that five children were murdered at the pizzeria in the 1980s and the suspect was never found. At this point, you might be thinking, “Huh, the movie is set in the early 2000s, but the pizzeria closed in the 80s; how come it’s still standing after all this time?” well, your guess is as good as mine as the film skips over that entirely. Also, throughout the film, Vanessa dangles clues to the mystery behind the pizzeria at us, but it’s generally annoying and ruins any sense of mystery.

In the morning after the second night, Mike and Abby’s ‘evil’ Aunt Jane hires some local hooligans, including Abby’s current babysitter, Max (Cat Connor Sterling – 9-1-1, The Resident), to smash up the pizzeria. The idea is that Mike would get fired for being a terrible guard and lose his job, thereby giving Jane a chance at getting custody over Abby and getting that sweet, sweet child support money, although Jane seems to be well-off in the film so why she would get any benefits money is beyond me and also the storyline as well, so whatever.

The gang breaks into Freddy’s and starts smashing things, and this causes the “possessed” animatronic characters to come to life and defend the place. I haven’t mentioned them up until now as they don’t do much for quite a while other than the odd scene here and there. The characters are Foxy the pirate fox (armed with a sharp metal hook), Chica the chicken and her animatronic cupcake, Bonnie the bunny and Freddy Fazbear, the gang leader. When the pizzeria was in operation, they would supposedly entertain guests in their band, I say supposedly, as I always found animatronics creepy. Even the word gives me the heeby jeebies. The animatronics slaughter all of the gang, including the babysitter Max, in quite brutal ways (except for Bonnie, who killed his gang member off-screen, a private man, I guess). 

Mike gets in trouble with Vanessa, who blames him for allowing Freddy’s to get trashed and spends time tidying up the pizzeria. Because Max, the babysitter, is no more, Mike has no choice but to bring Abby to work with him on his third night. Abby sleeps in the security office for a bit, and when Mike dozes off (which he’s done consistently every night so far), Abby disappears as is usual for a horror movie. When Mike wakes up, he panics and finds Abby has befriended the animatronics, and it’s then that Mike discovers they’ve been haunted by the ghosts of the children murdered in the pizzeria. The following scenes are quite jarring as Abby dances around with the now-friendly animatronics while Mike is wary of them, but they’re otherwise neutral to him. On the fourth night, Mike, Abby, Vanessa and the animatronics make a blanket fort and chill out for some reason. It’s kind of cute, I guess, but not fitting with the horror movie theme. It seems that this might’ve been put in as a service to all those who drew fan art and wrote fan fiction of the FNAF games where the animatronics are friendly. There’s no other reason for any of this to be in a horror movie and confuses things.

On the fifth night, Mike reluctantly asks Jane to babysit Abby as he doesn’t trust the animatronics (and heeds Vanessa’s warning about bringing Abby back), which upsets Abby. The ghost children appear in Mike’s dream once again, but this time, they offer Mike a choice: he can stay in the dream world with his brother forever if he lets the ghost kids keep Abby. Throughout the film, Mike has been shown to be quite caring of his younger sister and seems to do as much as he can in her interest. So, naturally, when he is offered the choice, he immediately accepts their deal to trade his sister for his dead brother.

To be fair to him, he goes back on it almost immediately, but it’s too late, and he gets attacked by the ghost who is controlling Foxy (in the real world, Foxy has injured him). He wakes up in a Freddy Fazbear-themed torture chair, complete with a nasty-looking Freddy mask that’s full of spinning sharp things. It’s clearly a SAW-type thing, and it was in the opening scene, but this movie doesn’t care much about its plot, so neither do I. Unlike the first guy, Mike escapes as he’s the main character. He finds the bodies of the gang after the animatronics got their paws(?) on them, including Max, and runs back to his house.

Meanwhile, a golden version of Freddy (Golden Freddy, who is a random element in later nights in the game) has appeared at Mike’s house, killed Jane, and is now luring Abby back to the pizzeria so they can kill her too and keep her with them forever.

Mike meets with Vanessa, who reveals she’s the daughter of the pizzeria’s mysterious owner, William Afton, who murdered the kids in the 80s and hid their bodies in the suits of the animatronics, thereby causing the animatronics to become haunted. Mike realises that Abby is in danger and gets back to the pizzeria where all hell is about to break loose. He defeats the animatronics (extremely easily) and saves Abby.

However, the “yellow rabbit”, which has been mentioned a few times so far in the plot, has arrived and re-activates the animatronics. In the games, the yellow rabbit is Springtrap, who is the main enemy in the third FNAF game. Inside the suit is Steve the career counsellor, who is revealed to be none other than William Afton. Did you see that one coming? Yeah, Steve is one of very few characters left in this movie, so the odds it was gonna be him were high, and the film clumsily hinted at something being up with him in the scene where he gave Mike the night guard job anyway. William has a showdown with Vanessa and stabs her, and Abby draws a picture of Afton in his suit. Somehow, the animatronics recognise William for what he is and set about killing him horribly. They trigger the spring locks in his suit, as is true to FNAF 3, and that’s that. Mike and Abby return to their normal lives, the pizzeria collapses, and all is ended, or is it? I don’t know and I am finding it hard to care.

Look, I think that Five Nights at Freddy’s has a strong basis to stand on for a real, true horror movie. But this? This aint it. The story is boring and poorly paced, the final confrontation is pushed so far back that it’s practically over in under four minutes, and there are so many jarring scenes and dialogue lines you just wonder how anyone thought the big reveals would be believable.

I think the issues are down to the writing and the age rating. They’re clearly trying to cater to all audiences and that makes this hard to follow and somewhat unbelievable. Also, this movie is rated 15 in the UK (PG-13 in the USA), so they couldn’t really do anything full-on with the horror without making it a higher rating and reducing the size of the potential audience. That leaves this movie feeling weak with no horror payoffs. 

It’s not all bad, though. I thought Josh Hutcherson was quite convincing as Mike Schmidt throughout the film. I thought the pizzeria looked good and creepy and the animatronics looked fantastic. This movie had a budget of $20m, and it seems like a lot of that went to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, which brought the animatronics to life amazingly. Also, it’s really nice not to have a movie these days with political undertones. Even if the movie didn’t really have any payoffs, at least it’s not trying too hard to tell me what to think or tell me I’m a bad person somehow.

Still, despite that, this movie is a flop in my eyes, and Jovan didn’t even make it to the end before he stopped watching. I’d say don’t bother paying for this film and sitting around for nearly 2 hours with it, but according to the film’s Wikipedia article, this movie has made over $250m worldwide so far, making this the second biggest video game movie ever after The Super Mario Bros. Movie (undoubtedly this is mostly younger audiences who enjoyed these games the most). I hope some of that income is spent on hiring a better writing team for the next films (oh yeah, apparently, there are two sequels in the works); they need it, but this series has a lot of potential if it’s treated with more care and nuance than this film received. This film gets my lowest score so far, and I’m treating one out of ten as my minimum possible score.

Five Nights at Freddy’s
Runtime: 109 minutes
Year of release: 2023
Director: Emma Tammi
Writers: Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback, Emma Tammi
Music: The Newton Brothers
Producers: Scott Cawthon, Jason Blum
Production: Blumhouse Productions, Scott Cawthon Productions
The animatronics looked fantastic
Good set design
No political messaging
The story is very bland – it can’t decide if it’s a horror movie or a goofy kid’s movie
The build-up to William Afton’s reveal was weak and obvious
Didn’t effectively use the camera system to build tension, which is what made the first game a success