Rant and Rave: “Five Nights at Freddy’s” bites off more than it can chew

As the horror game adaptation made its way to the big screen, fans gladly relived the eerie run-down pizzeria, though it lacked the paralyzing fear factor that cemented its fame.

Flipping through the staticky cameras of Hollywood unveils what might be the most conspicuous picture of the year. Ever so uncanny and spine-chilling, the 2014 hit game Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF) that once took the world by storm unleashes a new wave of shrills and thrills as it traverses to the silver screen. First-timers and regulars alike flocked to the nearest cinemas, which transformed into Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, as they hoped to witness its neon lights glow and arcade machines teem with sound once more in the four desolate corners of the black-and-white tiled establishment.

In deep slumber, tucked away behind dusty red velvet curtains, are the franchise’s beloved, phobia-inducing animatronics: Freddy, Chica, Bonnie, and Foxy. With their otherworldly vigor and unquenchable thirst for human souls, the crew boots back to life and runs another round of vicious killing. The film’s nostalgic atmosphere and iconic soundtrack leave viewers checking their vents and listening for murmurs as dusk envelops—hoping to reach the relieving bells at 6 am.

Pizza is served

Film adaptations of beloved video games are often met with scrutiny due to the fans’ high expectations. Apart from having to stay true to its visual origins to appease veteran followers of the franchise, it must also provide a fresh storyline to avoid translating the redundancy of the gameplay and to attract new enthusiasts as it further asserts its relevance. But FNAF checks almost all the boxes of a flimsy adaptation.

Viewers are served with a bounty of familiarity through character design and a similar—albeit non-canon—plotline to the original game’s story. The dirty worn-out animatronics look identical to their video game counterparts, truly bringing Freddy and his gang of murderous machines (and of course, the robot cupcake Carl) to life even without their infamous jumpscares that infested every game.

The film’s creator and scriptwriter Scott Cawthon aimed to appeal to the FNAF community without boring them to death with the same old stories, thus giving life to new troubled characters who meet their fates within the abandoned walls of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. The movie follows the traumatic and worrisome life of Josh Hutcherson’s Michael “Mike” Schmidt, who finds himself taking up a security job at a shut-down pizzeria in order to keep custody of his little sister Abby. While the plot definitely piqued the interest of many dedicated fans, Cawthon made sure to hide several easter eggs from the video game’s lore throughout the film as a small treat.

For FNAF enthusiasts and casual moviegoers, the plot is interesting enough to anticipate sequels and theorize on the film’s unanswered questions—some of these being what becomes of the pizzeria and its possessed animatronics after the antagonist’s demise.

Stuck in our own little zone

For a flick marketed under the appeal of an innocent fast food chain turned serial murder den, certain criticisms still linger about the movie’s rendition of Freddy Fazbear and his motley crew of robotic pals. One thing that the adaptation fails to maintain is the eerie atmosphere of the games; there is an absence of impaired movement, constant white noise, and  heightened sense of paranoia that keeps one on their toes as lumbering animatronics loom over them. 

Understandably, the movie’s PG-13 rating makes it suitable for younger audiences to witness the animatronics come to life. Audiences are naturally drawn to a movie with good execution; had the producers gunned for keeping the eerie ambiance that made the games’ success, the film might have resulted in a much more sinister and skin-crawling atmosphere that would keep moviegoers glued to their seats—just like Mike himself did.

On locked seats, to say Matthew Lillard’s portrayal of the antagonist William Afton was underwhelming at best is still quite the understatement. Sudden plot twists are a well-utilized trope in forcing a reaction from any audience, and the movie is no stranger to that. However, the final result is a far cry from the grotesque and borderline inhuman actions performed by Afton’s counterpart from the games. 

As Afton dons the costume of his own machinations—Spring Bonnie, that is—his horrific rampage required a more nuanced manner of storytelling, as opposed to the cliché device of a man simply hellbent to murder children, which the film employed. Despite highlighting the dangers of the springlock suits where Afton relishes in his crimes, the film presents a seemingly neutered yellow bunny with a wider frame, invisible joints, and pointier ears that only served to bore kids instead of having an undeniable alluring charm that masks their true unsettling intentions. 

And oh, the choice to turn Afton into an American instead of British only further fuels the derisions.

Help wanted

Despite establishing Mike’s role as Abby’s older brother and legal guardian following their parents’ untimely deaths, the film places little emphasis on his struggle to raise his sister amid a custody fight with their rogue Aunt Jane. Though the dynamic was established decently in the first half, it ultimately became a  half-baked product from an uncooked ending. 

Inconsistencies also continue to haunt the film. The fact that Abbyplayed by the wholesome Piper Rubiowent from a lovable sarcastic sister who was easy to root for to the MacGuffin which reeked of wasted potential, only propelled the narrative into further disarray. Abby’s connection to the ghosts of the missing kids in finding another ethereal friend removes the entire purpose why the children had yet to move on to the afterlife : a slow and painful revenge against Afton.

By neglecting the source material’s thematic driving force of the complex relationships between Afton’s actions and the pizza place, the franchise film, in an effort to appeal to all audiences, fails on two fronts: fans are provided  with inconsistent concepts lifted from the actual FNAF lore, while those uninitiated to the saga exit the cinema just outright dazed and confused.

Prepping for the next night

Nostalgia sells—this is what box-office colossal giants like the recent Scream and Jurassic universe films capitalized on. And nostalgia this film does well. 

The film’s atmosphere, while subtle and artificial at times, captures the yearning and longing for old times anew. The unkempt glory of the pizzeria manages to reignite the founding game’s global rampage, driven by sentimentality in the dim, fluorescent-lit tables, and stale pepperoni pizzas. Despite the film’s lacking fear factor, evident by the miniscule arsenal of jumpscares the game is known for, Five Nights at Freddy’s still manages to reel you in with an eerie silence and ominosity, making up for its shortcomings—until it doesn’t. 

Based on a franchise littered with multiple games and books worth of backstories, the film surprisingly does a great job of bringing its storyline’s essence to fruition: a security officer guards a pizzeria where killer robots come to life at night. It manages to showcase the struggles borne by the security guard, by giving him the identity and humanity that was otherwise unseen in the game.  

Five Nights at Freddy’s is a tantalizing tale, an adaptation that required more fright and more mangle on William Afton’s signature animatronics to be a fun time at the cineplex. Freddy and his crew’s first manifestation at the box office was mediocre at best, with their fair share of voice cracks and malfunctions. But with this being their first foray onto the big screen, we can hope that it only gets better from here. 

Rating: 2.5/4.0

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