Five Nights at Freddy's review: Solid shocker risks disappointing diehards
Emma Tammi brings Five Nights at Freddy's to the big screen with some interesting consequences.
The makers of any film adapted from, or inspired by, material in another medium routinely have to brace themselves for a backlash. Fans of, say, a beloved novel or stage play may not take kindly to any changes deemed necessary en route to the cinema, and, in modern times, those voices of dissent or derision are rarely louder than when the source is a hugely popular computer game.
It’s understandable, if you consider the personal, even emotional, connection gamers can forge with their favourites. Unlike a book, consumers of a console or online-based franchise engage directly with a product and the folkloric universe that builds around it, able to steer the narrative along myriad different paths.
That’s not an option when it’s turned into a movie, and that’s where frustration can set in.
Consequently, savvy thinking would suggest the big screen version should tick as many punter-pleasing boxes as possible, embracing specific traits familiar to the devotees who made the game a big enough hit to warrant a film in the first place. Sadly, it’s a philosophy the folks behind Five Nights at Freddy’s don’t appear to have grasped.
The original game surfaced in 2014, created by tech developer Scott Cawthon and taking its lead from family-friendly themed restaurants like the American pizza chain Chuck E Cheese, where customers’ dining experiences are enhanced by children’s play areas and cuddly animatronic creatures. In this instance, the chief “mascot” is Freddy Fazbear, who, along with his fellow furry pals, becomes hostile and homicidal after business hours.
Taking on the role of night watchman, the gamer has to combat the beasties' menacing behaviour with sundry tools and alterations to lights, doors, ventilation shafts, etc, via buttons on a console or a computer keyboard. Several scenarios are lifted from recognisable horror movie tropes, so it was perhaps inevitable the premise would itself be reupholstered for the horror genre.
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Therein lies a bugbear with the film version. It’s arguably too in thrall to the traditional conventions of horror cinema (jump scares, nightmarish screams and the like), to the point where it has a tendency to dilute some of the game’s bespoke elements. Time and again the personality of Cawthon’s vision is sacrificed in favour of generic fright fest tropes – bafflingly so, seeing as Cawthon is one of the three credited screenwriters.
Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) stars as Mike, the newly-hired graveyard shift security guard at the now abandoned Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a job taken reluctantly to avoid losing custody of his younger sister. It’s a sobering back story in an often unnecessarily convoluted plot, at odds with the cartoonish absurdity of what follows, ie robot animals with murder in mind when the clock strikes midnight.
Mike’s predicament and reasons for taking the job feel like they’ve been flagged largely to facilitate a theory that the creatures serve as mechanical representations of the humans Mike has to contend with when not at work.
Said humans include Mary Stuart Masterson as Mike’s malevolent aunt and Matthew Lillard as his ineffectual career counsellor, yet while both acquit themselves well in roles that barely stray beyond extended cameos, to all intents and purposes they’re playing second fiddle to the true villains of the piece.
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Freddy and his chaotic cohorts, lovingly fashioned by the Jim Henson Creature Shop, bring the noise and the fun, although director Emma Tammi and her co-writers stumble when probing the motivations behind their mayhem.
The story remains perfectly serviceable as an exercise in mysterious silliness, its protagonists enjoyable enough when taken at uncomplicated face value, like twisted tormentors in an episode of The X-Files dreamed up in the writers’ room at Scooby-Doo.
They could do with being a tad nastier, though, as compared to what they’re capable of in the original game series the violence is considerably toned down to ensure a 15 certificate. The result is a sanitised interpretation of a world where more grisly components were integral to its first flush of online success, leaving us with a solid shocker that’s by no means without appeal but risks disappointing diehards in its target core audience.
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