By Jasmine Liang
Arts & Entertainment Editor
On Oct. 27, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (2023) debuted in theaters nationwide and broke records as the highest grossing horror movie in 2023, despite also being available on Peacock the day before. The indie game it adapts acquired a cult following for its Easter eggs, complicated lore, and well-designed characters, guaranteeing an impressive audience for the movie release.
“Five Nights at Freddy’s” (2023) received a high audience score with 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but critics don’t seem to agree — giving it a collective 30 percent.
As a horror movie, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (2023) didn’t deliver. It strayed far from the trademark jumpscares that gave the game its name. There were five total throughout the film, with two being cheap surprises by the Balloon Boy figurine popping up in unexpected places. And the most vicious character — besides William Afton, who only antagonizes at the end of the film — was Chica’s cupcake.
The script of “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (2023) was also disappointing with its loose web of coincidences for a plot. The driving force behind the main character, Michael (“Mike”) Schmidt, is his irrevocable hunger for vengeance against his younger brother’s unknown kidnapper, from whom his brother never returned. Mike happens to stumble across said kidnapper, William Afton, in his fake persona as a career consultant. Upon learning Mike’s identity and connection with the child William killed years ago, William encourages him to apply for the recently opened security position at the defunct Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, which William owns. This chance encounter just scratches the surface of illogical events that conveniently fall into place for the plot to progress.
Further, the character writing leaves much to be desired. Mike’s sister and dependent, Abby, isn’t given much depth, and instead acts as a piece of leverage. Mike’s custody of Abby is threatened by their Aunt Jane, who wants the benefits that come with adoption. Later, the animatronics use Abby as a bargaining chip: they want to take her from Mike in exchange for information on William.
Vanessa, a police officer unusually concerned with the series of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza security guards who always “quit,” is revealed to be William’s daughter. (In the games, Mike is William’s son instead.) Vanessa is haunted by her father’s crimes, but doesn’t oppose his villainy except in her kindness toward the animatronics — who are inhabited by the children William has killed. Her lines are cliche at best and forced at worst. The outburst she has against Mike when he demands more information, even knowing her backstory, sounds stunted and awkward, like a caricature of a traumatized woman.
The volatile relationship between humans and animatronics frames the conflict, but ultimately, sympathy is afforded when William appears as the true antagonist for the final confrontation. The humanization of the animatronics as the children’s ghosts, both in Mike’s dreams and through Abby’s perspective, forces the film away from the true horror it’s inspired by. Whereas the reveal and uncovering of the lore in the games is mostly through player initiative, the film spells it out and is accepting of the consequences. For most of the nights that Mike spends at Freddy’s, he sleeps and only leaves with a couple of strange scars — nothing to jump out of your seat for.
Even though “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (2023) doesn’t astonish as a film or screenplay, it’s littered with references, familiar faces, and well-crafted animatronics and sets that deliver on a visually captivating experience. From Foxy’s iconic in-game sounds, to Chica’s kitchen antics, to the questionable friendship scene where the main characters build a blanket fort with the animatronics — this movie gives fans something to laugh about.
The casting is also exciting for fans of “Hunger Games,” “Scream,” and “You” for performances by Josh Hutcherson as Mike Schmidt, Matthew Lillard as William Afton, and Elizabeth Lail as Vanessa Afton respectively.
At the very least, the film took great consideration of the source material, even involving the game’s creator Scott Hawthorn, and clearly wanted to appeal to fans rather than a general audience. Fans will definitely enjoy the experience of seeing the film, even if just to have an excuse to cosplay their favorite characters and reminisce on a childhood-shaping game.