Five Nights at Freddy’s review (2023) – biting horror

Five Nights at Freddy's is one of this year's most anticipated films, but a thinly-spread and confusing plot makes me think these animatronics need a reboot.

Our Verdict

Sticklers for the lore might find themselves disappointed, but all in all, it's a frightfully good time.

Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza from Five Nights at Freddy’s might be the most well-known restaurant in the world — but not for its food. The main attractions are its fun-loving, musical animatronics: Freddy, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy. No, you can come near them, it’s okay. They don’t bite…

A simple point-and-click survival game, Five Nights at Freddy’s became an unexpected phenomenon, not only because of the (now iconic) evil animatronics but because of the mystery shrouding William Afton — although you might know him better as the ‘Purple Guy.’

When it came to the plot of the Five Nights at Freddy’s games, Scott Cawthon, the game’s sole developer, hid most of it in newspaper clippings, symbolism, and charming 8-bit mini-games. It was up to players to piece the mystery together, but alongside Emma Tammi, who also directed the video game movie, Scott penned a whole new story for the film.

Mike Schmit (Josh Hutcherson) is the gruff and exceptionally sleepy brother of young Abby (Piper Rubiro). After a run-in during his employment as a mall security guard, where he mistakenly believed a young boy was being kidnapped, Mike needs a job. Soft-spoken and befuddled careers counselor Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard) offers Mike a job as a night security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a place with its own mysteries and secrets, which Mike slowly uncovers with the help of police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail).

We haven’t seen much of Josh Hutcherson since The Hunger Games franchise wrapped up, but his return to the big screen as part of the Five Nights at Freddy’s cast is definitely welcome.

As he grapples with his own unsolved mystery closer to home, it becomes apparent that Mike is a person who isn’t just haunted by his past but utterly consumed by it. This obsession makes him a pretty terrible guardian and even worse at his job, but Hutcherson makes the character sympathetic for the most part.

Speaking of people who are terrible at their jobs, I imagine the crime rate in the city this movie is set in is through the roof, as Vanessa prefers to hang around the pizzeria looking shifty and giving Mike one-note, ominous advice above anything else.

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But the animatronics are, of course, the main attraction. They aren’t always violent and terrifying, and you see a different side to them that may be less apparent in the games, but they’re at their best when committing grisly murders and just generally causing chaos.

With the exception of a frightful opening sequence, there’s a bit of a build-up to us finally getting to meet the animatronics — arguably, it takes a little too long— but once you’re in the thick of the action, there’s plenty of it to enjoy.

Apart from the animatronics chomping on people, not a lot of the plot surrounding the film makes sense. Abby’s connection with the animatronics, for instance, feels half-baked in its explanation, while the link between Mike’s brother and the mystery shrouding the restaurant feels shoehorned in at best.

The film is at its strongest when it shows rather than tells — with Tammi’s weaving of Easter eggs and color symbolism helping to add a level of intrigue to the film while also delighting fans of the games. But Five Nights at Freddy’s lets itself down by leaning too hard on the telling.

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For those paying attention to the clues Tammi leaves throughout the film, the villain reveal should come as no surprise, and it’s clear the person playing William Afton is reveling in the campiness and theatrics of his role. But the circumstances surrounding the ‘big reveal’ don’t make much sense, nor does Vanessa’s role in it all.  For a film so focused on its characters’ pasts, it would’ve been nice to see certain past events and perspectives fleshed out more rather than having it all explained at the eleventh hour in rushed dialogue.

So, while the final act of the new movie is definitely its strongest, it all happens too quickly. It feels like the writers are trying to spin so many plates and tie up so many loose ends; it all ends up knotted, overcrowded, and over before it really has a chance to get started.

But truth be told, the story doesn’t really matter as much. It’s just a vehicle that allows these animatronics to go apeshit and murder people, and when it does that, the film is a lot of fun. And as a personal long-time fan of the franchise, seeing Freddy, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy on the big screen was worth the visit alone. And for a film like this, that type of nostalgia is enough. It might not be the best horror movie ever made, but it’s entertaining enough as a nostalgia trip.

For more on this Halloween movie, here are 10 things you didn’t know about Five Nights at Freddy’s, the Five Nights at Freddy’s true story, and our guide on how to watch Five Nights at Freddy’s.