Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023) | Review
Does the movie adaptation stay faithful to the game?
By Scott Crowden
Five Nights at Freddy’s began as an indie horror game created by one man, Scott Cawthon, in 2014.
The game, while simple with its mechanics and scares, captured the hearts of thousands — and soon millions — of fans through its encrypted and sometimes ridiculously hard-to-follow storyline. The plot of the game is not told through direct storytelling, but through hints, breadcrumbs and internet theories.
This, of course, does not work in filmmaking, unless you’re David Lynch. It was always inevitable that the movie would have to take a different approach. So how did director Emma Tammi do? Did she do the games justice?
For the most part, absolutely. The storyline is almost identical to that of the games. Struggling with debt, Mike Schmidt (played by Josh Hutcherson) takes on the role of security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria: an establishment where, in the 80’s, five children went missing. These children, killed by a man in a yellow rabbit costume, now haunt the firm’s animatronics: Freddy, Bonnie, Chica and Foxy.
So what makes the movie different from the game? For starters, the characters are actual people, and Mike isn’t just a voiceless POV for the player. The animatronics are personified as children, and yes, that does include a montage where they band together with the protagonists to build a pillow fort and no, I’m not joking.
This is where you start to realise that the movie is not like the game. In the game, the animatronics are ruthless killers, lumbering into your office with their creepy, dead-eyed stares. And while this is still the case in the movie, the segment where they ‘play nice’ and befriend the protagonists completely slaughters the tone of the movie. From that point onwards, it’s impossible to see them as a threat.
Blumhouse’s Five Nights at Freddy’s is less of a heart-pounding thrill ride and more of an after-school Halloween disco.
This isn’t inaccurate to the story of the game; it is made clear that the animatronics would act friendly towards children and violent towards adults. The difference with the movie is that it is actually shown. Unless you’re a megafan of the series, it seems absurd that these killer robots would be used for comedic moments if you’re only aware of the original game and its status as a horror game.
The movie is stuck balancing its graphic, 18-rated moments with its PG-13 content and the efforts to appeal to the younger audience that adores the game. This dichotomy makes the film feel more disjointed: the same movie with slapstick gags and YouTuber cameos has scenes of mutilation and dismemberment. If they had fully committed to one or the other, then the film would take on the image of a clearer, more distinct picture. Instead, we’re left with a picture of a crime scene that’s been sketched over in colourful crayon.
What was adapted incredibly well, though, was the pizzeria, the ambience and the animatronics themselves. No matter what age you are or what your prior experience with the series is, this movie will make you feel nostalgic. The neon lights, the sounds of the arcade machines and The Romantics playing on repeat, Freddy’s is a love letter to the 1980s. The animatronics, too, look stunning. One-to-one recreations of their original models from the game, the fuzzy haunted killers were handcrafted at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, who are most known for bringing The Muppets to life. The animatronics in Freddy’s are full of life and character, from Foxy singing dum dum dum under his breath to Chica and her killer cupcake.
The Romantics’ “Talking In Your Sleep” has been stuck in my head ever since I watched the movie. Mentally, I’m still working the night shifts at Freddy’s.
It’s not just the animatronics that are a pleasure to watch. I also found the movie to have had great casting. Josh Hutcherson, mainly known through The Hunger Games, plays Mike. After watching, I can’t imagine anyone else in that role. Piper Rubio and Elizabeth Lail are two great additions to the story that were not present in the game, and horror icon Matthew Lillard plays career counsellor ‘Steve Raglan’. Lillard killed every scene he was in. Unfortunately, he was barely present in the movie, which was disappointing given his importance to the plot.
However, while adapted well, the movie is not fully accessible to casual viewers. Certain aspects of the plot will remain unclear or underdeveloped if the viewer has not yet acquainted themselves with the series. There are also endless amounts of references and nods to games in the series, even within the characters themselves. Your parents will get nothing from Lail’s character being called “Vanessa” or Lillard shouting “I always come back!” during his final scene in the movie.
Creator Scott Cawthon said that this movie was “for the fans”, but that others were welcome to come and immerse themselves. But as some fans of the original series still find themselves disappointed in the final product, it remains to be seen if the movie was a success or a failure.
Whether or not you liked or hated Five Nights at Freddy’s, it is still a miracle that such a movie even exists. What started as a man’s idea for a small indie video game has projected itself into the stratosphere. If you told my younger self that I would be watching a full-length movie of the game in nine years time, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it happened, and for all of its faults, Freddy’s managed to stay true to its original form — albeit sillier than Cawthon’s original image.
And hey — it was a success at the box office, so you better be ready to visit Freddy and his friends again sooner rather than later.