Back in 2014, my then teenage son introduced me to the video game “Five Nights at Freddy’s” developed by Scott Cawthon who co-wrote the film’s screenplay along with director Emma Tammi and Seth Cuddeback. Set in a pizzeria, it was scary fun as you battled the Chuck E. Cheese-inspired animatronics. Now, almost a decade later, we get a film that embodies the spirit of the game with Josh Hutcherson (“The Hunger Games”) playing security guard Mike Schmidt who takes an overnight job at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, the shuttered restaurant housing the robot mascots. Jump scares and gore are substituted for a creepy atmosphere making this family-friendly horror.
Matthew Lillard, whose breakout role was in 1996’s “Scream,” gravitates back to his horror roots to play mild-mannered Steve Raglan, a career counselor who helps protagonist Mike Schmidt land a job after being fired from his last security gig at a mall where he mistakenly attacked a man he thought was abducting a child. From various flashbacks, we discover that years earlier Mike’s younger brother Garrett (Lucas Grant) was kidnapped while he was supposed to be watching him, which explains Mike’s reaction at his Paul Blart gig.
The job turns out to be an overnight security gig at the shuttered Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza which the owner apparently is hanging on to for sentimental reasons. The pay sucks, and the hours are bad but due to Mike’s employment history, he has no choice but to take the gig. Since Mike takes care of his younger sister Abby (a very good Piper Rubio), he is forced to hire a babysitter (Kat Conner Sterling) to stay with her overnight while he’s at his job.
Mary Stuart Masterson plays Mike’s aunt Jane who wants custody of Abby and would probably make a better parent if it wasn’t for her Cruella de Vil vibes, and Elizabeth Lail is cast as Vanessa Shelly, a local police officer who keeps an eye on Freddy’s and Mike, she seems deeply vested in the pizzeria or its new security guard as she stops by regularly, eventually giving Mike the 411 on the creepy restaurant.
According to Vanessa, a bunch of kids went missing in the 80s. “The police searched Freddy’s top to bottom” she explains, but they were never found. She adds, “It’s why the place shut down.”
The film’s opening scene reminiscent of the “Saw” franchise, could have given FNaF an R-rating, but as with the entire film, director Emma Tammi cuts away before blood is spilled leaving viewers to use their imagination. And by the way, there are more of those “Saw”-like moments. Production designer Marc Fisichella, who’s worked on “Lord of Illusions” and “The X-Files” sets up the perfect creepy atmosphere enhanced by Lyn Moncrief’s cinematography.
Visually the film looks great and Tammi does a solid job of creating quite a few tense moments. The fact that the film isn’t scary may turn off some rogue adults but if you’re a fan of the video games, you should be satisfied especially with all the Easter eggs.
Hutcherson is sufficient at making the most of his role but it’s Piper Rubio who shines in the spotlight as the withdrawn Abby who spends most of the time drawing, her relationship with Mike is not the greatest. She manages to stand out in the scenes with the animatronics, never letting the cuddly but creepy bots steal the spotlight.
The real stars of the film are the 7-foot-tall animatronics which include Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy. When they are not performing “Talking In Your Sleep” by The Romantics, the killer robots are looking for their next victim. The soundtrack includes “Connection” by Elastica, “Real Wild Child (Wild One)” by Iggy Pop, as well as Kool & the Gang and Brandy heard in the background. Props to The Newton Brothers for composing the haunting and upbeat score.
With humor and a few minor bloody scenes plus the ghost children element, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” falls somewhere between R. L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” and “Gremlins.” It’s creepy fun for kids and adults, however, young children may find a few scenes frightening.
Now showing in theaters and streaming on Peacock