‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’: Did it live up to years of buildup?

***Note: This review does not contain spoilers regarding the contents of the film.

The Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF) franchise has existed for almost ten years, contains thirteen video game installments, and has helped its creator reach a net worth of $70 million. It is considered one of the most successful and influential franchises in the horror gaming sphere, with its easily marketable animatronic characters and twisted and complex storylines.  

FNAF didn’t start off as a game developed by a reputable game development company with production costs in the millions. Its creator, Scott Cawthon, began the project single-handedly in 2014 with the Indie horror game ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s.’ The game immediately took off, grossing around $8.9 million alone, a number unheard of considering the low production value.

With the franchise’s popularity came a large demand for more content, especially in the realm of film. In 2015, the Warner Brothers film began developing a film adaptation of the video games. However, due to logistical issues in film, the most prevalent being gaining the film rights to FNAF and animatronic malfunctions, the production was canceled, leaving the fan base devastated. In April of 2023, however, a new production company by the name of Blumhouse Productions announced they would be taking on the project. 

That takes us to now. 

In anticipation of the movie, fans have been equally ecstatic about the film and afraid that the franchise would be “dumbed down” in terms of the violence and horror displayed in the video games. 

Today, with the release of the movie, everyone’s questions were answered. 

Including my own.

The video game series this movie was based on consists of, for the most part, first-person survival horror challenges with lore built in. Because of this lack of condensable storyline, fans worried that the movie would just be a general recap of the story they have all heard before. 

In terms of new and exciting–but still nostalgic–content, the film did not disappoint. 

The main protagonist is one that has never been introduced to the franchise before, and has many facets and flaws that make him an incredibly dynamic character who is interesting to watch on screen. Instead of making a movie about animatronics trying to attack some guy in an abandoned arcade, the creator and his co-writers created whole new characters and film lore that add a lot to the movie experience. The story follows this character inside and outside of the pizzeria, a concept that isn’t much covered in the games.

Another main concern from the fan base surrounding the release of this movie was the level of “scariness” that it would portray. 

The games include dark and violence themes that make for an intense and emotional gaming experience. 

Many die-hard fans of the games hoped that the same themes and levels of gore would exist in the movie and feared that the writers would be more conservative in order to appeal to a wider film audience. 

For example, this Steam Community thread, which starts off as a fan worrying that the film would be released with an R rating, quickly followed by replies assuring that the film would definitely be released with a PG-13 rating. These replies seem to agree unanimously that this rating implies that most of the scariness of the video games would be redacted from the movie, and expressing their low expectations.

While some elements of this conservatism can be seen throughout the film, the storyline still revolves around the twisted themes portrayed in the games, with a couple of gruesome moments. 

Even though the movie was marketed as a horror film, I would argue that it is more of a nostalgic comedy with heavy references to a horror franchise. To be perfectly clear, the story itself is not comical. Themes of kidnapping, murder, and overall violence are very prevalent. 

However, many of the scenes of the movie were shot in a way that is clearly comedic. For example, a scene where the main character walks into a storage room and proclaims, “What the frick?” in response to being scared of the room, or a murderous animatronic giving a thumbs up.

The last major concern surrounding the film’s release was the possibility that it would be full of very cliche horror movie taglines and skits, which would completely take away from its contents. 

Many people took to social media to make ironic comments about these cliches, some of my favorite being:

Although none of these comments were actually made in the movie, there were some moments that can be perceived as “cringe” in the same way, especially when the movie is framed as a more satirical and comedic take on the premise of the games.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated aspects of the film was the promises of guest appearances, as seen in the teaser trailers.

The only cameo that was confirmed by the teaser was Coryxkenshin, a famous YouTuber who gained a lot of his fame and popularity on social media from his FNAF play-throughs. 

Other YouTubers that were suspected to be a part of the franchise somehow were Markiplier, Jacksepticeye, and MatPat, although some of them might have been wishful thinking on the fans’ part. 

During the end credits, there is also a fan-made song based off of the franchise that plays to the conclusion of the movie. Fan-made songs are a huge part of the fandom, and the use of any of these songs in the movie was also hugely anticipated. 

These guest appearances serve to demonstrate how observant the film studio has been during the production of the movie. Not only did they use the video game source material, but they paid attention to the fan-base and what they would want to see in the film adaptation.

Although I did hope for a film that was more based in the horror-roots of the franchise, there were elements of the film that I enjoyed. 

I appreciated the story-telling element of the movie the most. I was not expecting for the writers to go out of their way to create what was essentially a whole new story to incorporate, while also reinforcing the classic lore of the video game series. 

The film did not seem half-baked in the slightest. Characters (new and old) were thoroughly developed and likable (when they were meant to be), jumpscares were meaningful and placed in a way that made sense, and actors really delivered to the performance. 

My biggest “issue” with the film would have to be the animatronics themselves. In the video games, especially the earliest ones that the film is based on, the animatronics are presented in a way that is suspenseful and keeps the player on the edge of their seats. However, the movie presents the animatronics as the night guards’ allies at some points, directly contradicting the original premise. 

If you have ever had any kind of interest in the FNAF franchise, and don’t mind a more satirical approach to the storyline, I would recommend giving the movie a watch.

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