The FNAF movie is campy fun with mild scares that heavily wears its namesake on its blood-soaked sleeve.
Blumhouse Productions, Striker Entertainment
Five Nights at Freddy’s (2014)
Five Nights at Freddy’s is the movie that long-time fans of the franchise have always wanted. But, as a movie for non-fans, it felt a bit lacking and needed a bit more polish before it hit the main stage.
I went into watching the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie as a fringe fan of the franchise. I’m generally a wuss when it comes to playing horror games.
Instead, I watch horror streamers scream at various spooky games on a regular basis. I often watch theorists trying to figure out the convoluted, confusing lore that nearly rivals Kingdom Hearts in complication.
The Five Nights at Freddy’s game series has been around for around nine years at this point, with over a dozen games (bear)ing its namesake, tons of books, and so much more mixed media about dead kids and haunted animatronics. You’d be forgiven for not having read or played it all.
In the original games, you play as a night security guard at a run-down old pizzeria. All you have to do is survive the night as the Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronics come to life and try to murder you throughout the shift.
In the first game, just like the movie, there are five main animatronics walking around: Freddy the bear, Bonnie the bunny, Chica the chicken, Foxy the fox, and Golden Freddy. Golden Freddy, another one of the five murdered children, has some more lore and details that get included in the movie as well.
So, when the movie finally came out, of course, I wanted to watch it to see if they did the franchise justice, how it worked with the existing lore and known stories, and if it worked enough as both a movie and a horror movie on its own.
So, since FNAF is a video game movie, that’s the best way to break it down here.
How did Five Nights at Freddy’s handle itself as a video game movie?
I grew up in an era where movies that were based on a video game IP were pretty atrocious. With the original Super Mario Bros. movie and Street Fighter, you came to expect camp, bad acting, terrible scripts, and rough, outdated CGI.
When it came to adapting horror video games, however, we got some fun action and scares with movies like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. They took the spirit of the franchise and made it their own thing and those movies worked, for what they’re worth.
We don’t talk about House of the Dead or DOOM, some other horror game movies. They never existed. They can’t hurt you.
The FNAF movie, as it sits, was surprisingly faithful to the franchise. This can easily be seen in the current Rotten Tomatoes score. While the critics have it at a really low 26%, the fans of the franchise have it sitting at a really nice 88%. But, based on the debut numbers, it’s likely to merit a sequel in any case.
Needless to say, the movie takes some liberties with the story to make Five Nights at Freddy’s more coherent than it’s ever been in nearly a decade of existence. But, as a video game-to-movie adaptation: yes, it does perfectly fine.
How did FNAF handle the existing lore?
As mentioned, something that FNAF fans needed was the lore and story to not stray from the video game series. There have been 9 years of theorizing about story elements, names, minute details, and counting fingers and toes on animatronics that culminated in the movie’s release. And they hit the nail on the head.
There are a ton of references and easter eggs packed into the movie. So many, in fact, that an average moviegoer will likely miss most of them. Even some of the most hardened Five Nights at Freddy’s fans may miss some of the deeper iceberg jokes like Sparky’s Diner.
There’s one scene in particular from near the end of the film. It’s a famous scene from the games that they recreate pretty faithfully in live-action instead of in 8-bit. No spoilers, of course. But, if you know, you know.
Without going into spoilers, Five Nights at Freddy’s focuses on a security guard named Mike Schmidt who has custody of his little sister, Abby, since their parents died. He deals with recurring nightmares after their brother was kidnapped years earlier.
He gets a job working nights at a run-down pizzeria and meets a pretty colorful cast of humans and animatronics. Ghosts of five dead kids who were murdered in the pizzeria years earlier are haunting the bodies of the robots, but there’s something even more sinister going on.
Is Five Nights at Freddy’s a good movie?
Watching the movie, I realized that it was designed for the fans of the franchise and no one else. While someone with little to no prior experience with the games can enjoy the movie, it doesn’t seem like it was made for them. This became a passion project years in the making for the people who grew up with the games or continuously watched MatPat solve the story for the seventh time.
Cinematically speaking, I think Blumhouse did really well. Practical effects, ironically, took center stage with fully built animatronic robots that look identical to their game counterparts.
I saw some behind-the-scenes videos and, yes, those robots can actually walk around, look menacing, and give big hugs. While they had some stunt costumes for things that the animatronics couldn’t do, it seems that no CGI was used on them. So, awesome job, Blumhouse.
You get a fully built set that looks and feels like it could be a real place and no CGI Marvel movie backgrounds in sight. The details make the world feel lived in and real.
The script could have used a little more work. There seemed to be some storylines that felt forced for the sake of the story, pacing, and motivations.
Vanessa’s (Elizabeth Lail) dialogue felt stilted to the point that I legitimately thought they were alluding that she was a robot throughout the movie. If you know Five Nights at Freddy’s, you know that’s a very real possibility, so I wasn’t sure.
Josh Hutcherson’s Mike was phenomenal and felt right at home in the franchise. Abby (Piper Rubio), a new character to the lore, had a great performance as well and I think her shenanigans might have been one of the better parts of the story.
If the goal was a 1980s B-movie feel, it worked with how dialogue and story beats were laid out. But, I don’t think that was intentional. For a modern audience, and especially FNAF’s younger-skewing demographic, a couple more drafts may have been an improvement.
All in all, this movie is a fun, if not entirely campy, romp through the very first game in a really big series that uses its own foresight to build a bigger world.
Is it a good “horror” movie?
Is Five Nights at Freddy’s scary? No, not in the slightest.
As I said, I’m a wuss. For a game series known for its haunting ambiance and constant jump scares, I don’t think I was scared a single time. I think of it like Cabin in the Woods, a movie that wants to satirize horror tropes, but never makes you feel scared, even when it’s actually trying.
While the story, setting, characters, and details all are an easy Five out of Five (nights), the core horror factor just isn’t there. If you go into this horror movie expecting to be scared, you’re going to be disappointed.
This might be why the critics seem to hate it, but the audience score is through the roof.
Final thoughts and verdict
Five Nights at Freddy’s is a fun, campy movie. It’s a popcorn flick, worth watching, even if you haven’t already experienced the series before now.
The dedication to the story and lore stands out. But, without a fan next to you, your average movie watcher may be confused as watching a Star Wars or Marvel movie without seeing the previous ten.
It’s worth noting that the dedication to the fanbase means that a handful of popular YouTubers were cast in cameos. You can find the Game Theorist himself, Mathew Patrick (MatPat), in an early scene of the movie, as well as a ton of photos of influencers and YouTubers on the wall of the restaurant.
Unfortunately, Five Nights at Freddy’s is somewhat spoiled by the trailers.
For Peacock subscribers, it’s available to watch for free. For franchise fans, it’s worth seeing on a big screen.
With how well it did on opening weekend, there needs to be a sequel. I can see a second movie in this franchise taking the weirdness level up to an 11. I wonder how they’ll handle the Security Puppet, the Mimic, and the Nightmare Animatronics if they make future installments.
If you're looking for some actual horror (or at least something spooky for Halloween), check out our list of games that'll give you the chills without giving you a bankruptcy.