As someone who has played nearly every game that a movie has been based on, it was refreshing to watch “Five Nights at Freddy’s” with only minimal knowledge of the source material.  The game series is relatively simple in nature.  The player assumes the role of a lone overnight security guard tasked with watching over “Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza,” a decrepit family pizza restaurant and its animatronic residents.  These robotic monstrosities from the 80s come to life each night, wandering the halls, trying to sneak up on the guard, and attacking when they aren’t looking.  Gameplay varies across the franchise but is basically a digital version of the old playground game “Red Light, Green Light.”  The games were renowned for their multiple jump scares, but with a paper-thin concept, how could this ever make a viable movie?

When a movie boasts a writing credit team of five people, it’s usually a recipe for blandness.  Writing teams usually round off all the fresh, unique ideas, and we’re left with a safe yet bland story.  Instead, perhaps due to including the man who created the FNAF lore, Scott Cawthon, the script takes time to establish a rather dark backstory and a couple of characters we actually care about.   Mike (Josh Hutcherson) is a troubled young man trying to hold down a job (any job) and raise his younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio).  Mike takes sleeping pills every night and suffers from a reoccurring nightmare, which is actually a memory from his past.  Years ago, while on a camping trip with his parents, he witnessed his younger brother being kidnapped.  His brother was never found, and he blames himself both for letting it happen and for being unable to identify what the kidnapper looked like.  After an on-the-job misunderstanding that surprisingly didn’t land him in jail, Mike is given one last chance by his temp job manager, Steve (Matthew Lillard).  Picking up on Mike’s desperation, Steve offers him a job that he’s had an impossible time keeping staffed, watching over “Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza.”   The first night goes off well enough, but as his shift nears completion, an oddly over-invested cop named Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) shows up and offers some not-so-helpful suggestions.  Freddy’s is on her night patrol route, and she is well aware of the rumors and high security guard turnover.

Being unaware of the FNAF lore, I was engaged throughout and rather surprised by some of the dark turns the story took.  Many of those will be obvious to fans of the games, but some of the “surprises” that seemed obvious to me actually upset fans of the franchise.  There are a couple of key changes in who the characters are, what they did, and when.  It’s a strange dichotomy that I see often in movies adapted from other sources.  Fans act like they want the movie to be exactly like the source material, but when it is, they’re disappointed that it’s just more of the same.  The best adaptations have a healthy balance of respect to the source material and fresh ideas.  There have also been complaints that there weren’t enough jump scarves or gore.  Sure, who doesn’t want more of that? But how many times have we seen a movie that leans too heavily into that and not enough into the story and characters?

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” can’t be everything to everyone, but it’s a very solid entry into the PG-13 gateway horror genre that everyone who loved the original game can now introduce to their kids.  It’s not perfect, but it’s fun, entertaining, and did I mention it has nearly zero CGI thanks to Jim Henson’s Workshop??

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” is in theaters and on Peacock now!


Five Nights at Freddy's