The long-awaited video game horror film, “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” has finally hit theaters to an incredibly divisive reception between critics and fans. Rotten Tomatoes lists a critic score of only 30%, while the audience score is at a staggering 87%, but why is there such a divide?
For the uninitiated, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” is based on the popular independent video game series of the same name. Also referred to as “FNAF,” the series is adored by many for its recognizable characters, unique design and, most infamously, its convoluted story.
The FNAF games have always had hints alluding to a larger narrative but never a confirmed story for the fans to go off of, so the promise of a film adaptation excited many, and for a lot of fans it didn’t disappoint.
The film boasted impressive recreations of the game’s iconic animatronic characters and a set that feels ripped straight from the game. The series' main antagonist and fan favorite character, William Afton, appears in the movie in a fantastic reimaging of the costume he wears in the games, and the designers’ efforts were evident from the sheer quality of the costume.
Besides the look of the movie, the performances given by both Josh Hutcherson and Matthew Lillard were highlights. Hutcherson as Mike, the main protagonist of the film, really made an impression; he was sweaty, exasperated and just a little unhinged, and it made all the difference.
Lillard, who played the previously-mentioned William Afton, knocked the role out of the park, harkening back to his early horror days in “Scream” (1996). Lillard stole the show with a short but incredibly memorable performance that gave a serial killer some twisted charm.
The movie was clearly made with fans in mind, and the people who worked on the film put a lot of care into making sure to not only adapt the look of the games to the big screen, but the feel as well. While this might be enough for some moviegoers, for others, it leaves a lot to be desired.
While the film revels in easter eggs and references to the games, there is a lot of actual meat missing from the plot of the film. Without prior knowledge of the games, there are gaps that the movie never really tries to fill to get its audience to keep up with the weak storyline.
Meaningless moments plague the movie and are probably the most detrimental thing to the film’s watchability. “Five Nights at Freddy’s” falls into a trap many low-quality horror movies do: scenes that don’t matter or progress what is actually interesting about the story. Scenes with the evil aunt and in the house feel like they are dragging along to get to the interesting stuff, which is all at the pizzeria.
The film also seems to take its strange twists very seriously, when they don’t really matter. The ‘twist’ of Lillard’s character being evil comes at the very end, after he’s been gone for the entire runtime of the film. Lillard's weird reaction to Mike's last name in their first introduction quickly revealed that he was up to something.
Another twist that held little to no meaning was when it was revealed that Elizabeth Lail’s character, Vanessa, is the daughter of William Afton. A strange choice and a reveal that is clearly trying to hold weight, but it doesn’t really amount to anything when we haven’t seen the character, or heard much about him, up until that very moment.
The film ends with Lillard’s character showing up, unprompted, to have a big dramatic fight at the Pizzeria for no real reason, and, while the sequence is fun, the lack of any story cohesion or reason for things to happen can be frustrating.
In addition to the meaningless final confrontation, the way he’s defeated is somewhat strange, and a flimsy choice made by the filmmakers. Having a crayon drawing be the lynchpin in this evil mastermind’s plan just makes their villain look like an idiot who should’ve thought his plan out better.
Following the record-breaking success of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Five Nights at Freddy’s” has secured itself as a juggernaut in the video game movie genre, having the second biggest opening weekend for a movie in the category. 2023 has been a big year for video game movies, and with the success of two of their biggest releases, sequels are inbound. While this movie wasn’t perfect, hopefully it will pave the way for better things to come.
Milo Anderson is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in film. He is a reporter and podcaster at the Campus Citizen. Milo is also in a band and enjoys watching movies, fiction writing, and playing games with his friends.