Five Nights at Freddy’s Review: A Disappointing Adaptation

Five Nights at Freddy’s, the long-awaited film adaptation of the popular video game, finally hit theaters and Peacock this past weekend, nearly a decade after the game’s debut. With a big box office win, the film has exceeded expectations, but does it live up to the hype for fans of the games and horror movies alike? After a muddled development journey, the answer may depend on who you ask. Read on to learn more about it, and hear some spoiler-free thoughts on the movie.

A popular video game buoyed by YouTubers

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, here’s a quick recap. On August 20, 2014, Five Nights at Freddy’s debuted on Steam. The horror video game, often abbreviated as FNAF, tasks the player character, Mike Schmidt, with surviving from midnight to 6 AM as a night security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a Chuck E. Cheese-like restaurant. The animatronics move about the restaurant and kill anyone they see by stuffing them into an animatronic suit.  Terrifying, right?

Shortly after release, the game became popular among the Let’s Play community of YouTubers, including creators like MarkiplierRooster TeethJackSepticEye, and, of course, MatPat, which gave the game a large following. This popularity led to creator Scott Cawthon releasing eight other games in the franchise, with a ninth coming this December, a multitude of spin-off games, books and comics, and now this movie.

A complicated path to the big screen

After Warner Bros. Pictures acquired the film rights in April 2015, Roy LeeDavid Katzenberg, and Seth Grahame-Smith all signed on to produce the adaptation and collaborate with franchise creator Scott Cawthon “to make an insane, terrifying, and weirdly adorable movie.” Shortly after, Gil Kenan signed on to direct the film. 

Warner Bros. Pictures put the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie on ice, but Blumhouse Productions came to the rescue two years later. Jason Blum, the mastermind behind hit horror films like Paranormal Activity and Get Out, joined the production team alongside creator Scott Cawthon.

But the momentum didn’t last. Just one month later, the film lost its director, Gil Kenan. It wasn’t until February 2018 that Chris Columbus, the director of Home Alone and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, signed on. Columbus replaced Kenan as the film’s director and producer, joining Blum and Cawthon.

A completed first draft in 2018

In August of 2018, Cawthon revealed that the film’s first draft was complete and that he wrote it alongside co–author of the Five Nights at Freddy’s novel trilogy, Kira Breed-Wrisley. According to Cawthon, the movie would adapt the events of the first video game. 

However, that November, Cawthon announced that the script for the film was being scrapped, and despite Columbus and Blum’s satisfaction with the script, he said he “had a different idea [for the story], one that I liked better.” Cawthon took responsibility for the ensuing delay in production.

In June 2020, during an interview with Fandom, Blum was asked about the film’s progress and had some thoughts: “It’s super active, so I really feel like we have a very good shot at seeing a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie…I feel like it’s really moving forward; it’s not stalled or anything else. It’s moving forward rapidly. I don’t want to put a timeline on it, but soon we’ll get a movie. I feel confident about that.” 

After over a year in development, Blumhouse Productions announced in September 2021 that director Chris Columbus had left the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie. But the film was still alive and kicking, and Blum revealed another major update a year later: Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would be creating the animatronic characters. Finally, in October 2022, the creative team behind the on-screen film was announced: Emma Tammi would direct and co-write the screenplay alongside Scott Cawthon and Seth Cuddeback.

The Review: Five Nights At Freddy’s is Missing an Intended Audience

Now that we have a complete understanding of the film’s journey from game to release let’s discuss my thoughts on Five Nights at Freddy’s. As an adaptation of the first game in the franchise, I’m not sure who this movie is for. 

[Editor’s Note: This is a spoiler-free review of Five Nights at Freddy’s.]

FNAF’s misses the mark for franchise newcomers

If it’s for newcomers to the franchise, the film’s plot features many moments that only longtime fans will understand. Considering how integral these moments are to understanding the overall plot of this film adaptation, I’m uncertain how many newcomers will exit the theater or close Peacock wanting to purchase one of the games, books, or comics. 

Similarly, as someone who watched the YouTubers mentioned above play through the original Five Nights at Freddy’s video game, the film does a terrible job depicting what prospective buyers can expect from the games. The gameplay loop from the games is essentially nonexistent in the film and emphasizes action over horror, akin to the original Resident Evil game.

Longtime fans of Five Nights at Freddy’s don’t fare much better

For longtime fans, I can make the case that you’ll like this movie, but not by much. The filmmakers have mapped out specific story beats to wink at fan theories, the game’s legacy, and tons of easter eggs. They also show their general love and admiration for what made so many people fans of the franchise. One highlight for me was how lovingly they recreated Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza and its characters to astonishing detail. Sometimes, I thought I was looking at a remake of the original game. However, without getting into spoilers, the original game’s story is expanded upon in a way that feels unnatural. Plot elements and reveals that happen in later games are squeezed into this movie.

Furthermore, the movie can sometimes feel like an adaptation of the original game in name only. Sure, the movie is majorly set in Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, but I never felt scared or even creeped out. In the games, if Freddy, Bonnie, Chica, or Foxy are staring at the camera, it’s a moment that has you jumping out of your skin. Here, I felt apathy towards them any time I saw them. On top of that, the game over screens from the original game are some of the most memorable. The recreations here are simply too simplistic to gain any reaction out of me, which extends to lackluster Saw-esque kills the movie is clearly going for. 

Misrated at PG-13

I’m not particular about a movie’s rating, but the PG-13 rating in this film feels restrictive. Any interesting element to the movie’s horror theme is quickly shuffled offscreen, so the viewer can’t see the reality of what these kills would look like. If I have one request, it’s to up the rating to R for a potential sequel or release the unrated version on Peacock or Blu-ray three months from now. The movie needs the R rating to honor the gut-dropping feeling that made the original game famous.

Final thoughts on Five Nights at Freddy’s

All of this said, I did enjoy my time with Freddy and the gang. I simply don’t know who this movie is for. This adaptation left me wanting a more accurate depiction of the original game. However, I encourage you to see the movie for yourself and develop your own opinion about how the movie works as both a standalone film and an adaptation of the original game if you’ve made it this far. 

My Rating: 2.5/5 AKA 5/10

How to Watch Five Nights at Freddy’s

Five Nights at Freddy’s is now playing in theaters nationwide. You can also catch it on Peacock from the comfort of your own home.

Not sold on FNAF, but still want something that scratches that horror itch? Check out Alise Chaffin’s review of M3GAN.

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