Directed by: Emma Tammi
Written by: Scott Cawthon, Seth Cuddeback, Emma Tammi, Chris Lee Hill, Tyler MacIntyre
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, Piper Rubio, Mary Stuart Masterson, Matthew Lillard, Kat Conner Sterling
Released: October 26, 2023
Grade: C+

Five Nights at Freddy's

Another Halloween is upon us and, instead of a billionth Saw or Halloween movie, we’re being offered something original.  Yeah, I realize it’s based on a 2014 video game but this is the first time it’s been adapted for the big screen.  The game’s creator, Scott Cawthon, has teamed up with several others in developing a screenplay.  The director’s chair belongs to New Yorker Emma Tammi, an up-and-comer who has interned under the likes of Robert Altman and Mel Brooks.

Not that I expected otherwise… but there’s very little nuance with the cut-and-dry set up.  We’re rooting for twenty-something-year-old Mike (Hutcherson) because he’s had a tough run.  His brother was abducted when he was a kid, his mum has since passed away, he can’t hold down a job, he’s about to default on his mortgage, and he risks losing custody of his pre-teen sister, Abby (Rubio), who he lovingly cares for.  It’s a decent performance from Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) who sells the character with a monotone disposition and kind-hearted nature.

The villain, at least in the early scenes, is Aunt Jane (Masterson).  As if trying to outdo the wicked stepmother in Cinderella, she doesn’t appear to have nice bone in her body.  She’s engaged a deadbeat lawyer and has served Mike with court papers in trying to take custody of young Abby.  It’s not because she cares but rather, she wants the weekly government welfare cheques.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense but that’s what we’re asked to go along with.

Anyway, desperate for any kind of job to help with the custody hearing, Mike accepts a low-paying gig as a nighttime security guard at a dilapidated pizzeria in the middle of nowhere.  It was renowned in the 1980s for its family entertainment and animatronic toys but after several kids went missing, and were never found, the place closed its doors.  The owner has kept the property for “sentimental reasons” and so requires security to make sure it isn’t broken into by vagrants and other ill-intentioned folks.

I wanted to like this more, but the direction is uninspired, the horror is limited, and the plot loses its way.  If you’ve seen the trailers and advertising, you’ll know what happens next.  The old robots in the pizzeria come to life and baffle Mike with their motivations – are they friendly or not?  Tammi tries to spook audiences with sudden close ups and other jarring imagery but it doesn’t work.  I couldn’t understand how the bots were so agile and threatening.

There’s one interesting subplot in the film but it’s undercooked.  Mike goes through a series of nightly routines, just before he dozes off, to help conjure up memories of his brother’s disappearance.  He hopes it’ll trigger a small detail he may have forgotten.  When he realises his sister has similar dreams, it prompts an intriguing conversation between the pair about what steps should be taken next.  It’s the best scene in the film as it puts Mike in a vulnerable position where choices need to be made.

It’s mostly downhill from there.  Plot twists feel contrived and the ending is unfulfilling.  Five Nights at Freddy’s gets a few things right… but it’s a long way from five stars.