Five Things About ‘Five Night at Freddy’s’ That Don’t Suck... Thank God This List Doesn’t Go to Six
For the better part of a decade, Five Nights at Freddy’s has been haunting kids and adults alike from behind their computer screens. The point-and-click game harkens back to the kind of thing you’d play on Newgrounds in the middle of the night when you had no business being on the computer.
It first gained viral popularity thanks to YouTubers and vloggers streaming the game back in 2015. Film rights were picked up almost immediately thereafter, but they spent years in development hell. That is, until Jason Blum and Blumhouse finally brought the horrifying game to the big screen this year.
Josh Hutcherson (Peeta in The Hunger Games franchise) takes on the role assumed by players: Mike Schmidt, a down-on-his-luck mall security guard who works the night shift at an abandoned family entertainment center after being fired from his previous job. His first shift at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza starts five nights of horror at the hands of haunted animatronics, all as he’s tormented by a past of his own that already keeps him up at night.
Despite a 76-percent drop during its second week in theaters, the film’s initial box-office numbers blew its budget out of the water, opening the doors for an inevitable sequel (and fans of the game know just how much material there is to keep this engine running — 13 installments’ worth to be exact). While critics and fans can go back and forth about whether or not the movie is any good, they can probably agree that it’s at least got these five things going for it…
The Return of the Type of Movie You’re Invited to Interact With
Despite the fact that Five Nights at Freddy’s fan base is so batshit insane that they make Rick and Morty stans look like angels, the film they spent years looking forward to brought back a type of movie that’s been sorely missing: one to engage with. Freddy’s fans temporarily abandoned being needlessly antagonistic online and filled movie theaters with a buzzing excitement rooted in years of anticipation to see the infamous animatronics on screen. Sure they were loud, sure they were rowdy, but the excitement in the theater was reminiscent of one of my favorite moments across all of horror — Scream 2’s opening kill.
This isn’t prestige filmmaking. It’s not a thought-provoking, once-in-a-generation film. And it’s definitely not the kind of film that wants or calls for standard movie theater etiquette (the fights that broke out in theaters across the country during screenings are excluded from that previous statement — you people need to learn some decorum). Five Nights at Freddy’s is very much a film like Stab, one that begs viewers to shout “behind you!” at a character who is moments away from death.
It’s hard to say if Freddy’s will have the lasting impact of throwing toast at the screen during Rocky Horror Picture Show or shouting “Oh hai Mark” while watching The Room, but for the moment at least, it’s a perfect reminder of the communal aspect of going to the theater.
The Kids Are All Fright
From the Overlook Hotel to Gatlin, Nebraska, children have been haunting horror movies for decades. As agents of antagonism, they’re creepy and unnerving. As innocent bystanders, you pray they don’t fall victim to whatever wickedness the movie has in store for them. Five Nights at Freddy’s has it both ways.
They haunt the story just as they haunt the abandoned restaurant, and their presence becomes more and more unsettling as the film goes on. The script could have better utilized them as it volleyed back-and-forth between blazing new ground and relying on the established story, but they still served their purpose.
Piper Rubio plays the young Abby who, innocent and trusting to a fault, has us in her corner from start to finish. Her performance as Abby is reminiscent of Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist or Danny Torrance in The Shining because she plays it straight. She doesn’t ham it up for the screen. There are no gimmicks. She plays a normal, practical child thrust into a horrifying insidious situation.
It’s a Fine Addition to the ‘Gateway Horror’ Genre
Unless it’s something like Get Out or Hereditary, horror movies are often relegated to B-movie schlock. But not every horror movie needs to be a revelatory, esoteric reflection on life with an allegory that requires a Master’s degree to understand. Sometimes the premise of hot coeds getting plucked off one by one or the descent of an architect turned homicidal maniac is perfectly fine, too.
While overall I don’t think Five Nights at Freddy’s was successful at turning its source material into something truly horrifying, I’m grateful that it’s a perfectly adequate form of “gateway horror.” Most kids aren’t going to cue up The Fly or Re-Animator when firing up a movie, unless they’re either already really cool or a child you need to keep a very watchful eye on. But after watching Five Nights at Freddy’s, kids might be more inclined to see what else the genre has to offer.
Matthew Lillard Proving That He Will Always Understand the Assignment
Stu Macher. Dennis Rafkin. Shaggy Rogers. If Matthew Lillard is in a movie, you can count on him to absolutely freak it. Hell, he was so committed to his portrayal of the 2002 live-action Shaggy that he took over for Casey Kasem when the animated character’s iconic voice actor retired in 2009. His take on Five Nights at Freddy’s villain William Afton is no different.
Lillard brings unparalleled energy to the film that elevates the material above run-of-the-mill streaming fare that you haphazardly put on as background noise. He embraces a level of jovial warmth when you meet him as “career counselor Steve Raglan,” a kind man that you see as a general do-good-er, before pivoting into a sadistic son-of-a-bitch — a reveal that packs much more of a punch. His character (and performance) exemplies the horrifying reality that there are sinister people who walk among us in plain sight — which might be the scariest thing about the movie.
Freddy Fazbear and Kermit the Frog Being Distant Cousins
The movie’s entire premise hinges on one important aspect: the killer animatronics. Thankfully, those little freaks are worth the price of admission. It can’t be denied how impressive they are, especially in a universe where the filmmakers easily could have defaulted to flat, lifeless CGI. Instead of copping out like many films with five times the budget, Jason Blum turned to the Jim Henson Creature Shop to bring Freddy Fazbear and the rest of his haunted, homicidal ratpack to life.
Director Emma Tammi described working with the legacy company on the project as such: “We were really achieving the utmost accuracy in terms of the designs from the game, but that we were also creating something tactile and that had emotion and humanity, even though there are animatronics.”
Because of the PG-13 rating, the kills and thrills aren’t nearly as menacing as they could be, but the tactile nature of the animatronics make up for what could have been in a more gruesome film. These aren’t empty entities but mechanical monstrosities. You can see the heft and danger implemented into the design. In fact, they make it a point narratively to show just how sharp the edges in the heart of the machines are.