Everyone has a first horror movie. Whether they managed to get in to see it in a theater or stumbled upon it on cable, we all have a first time that the magic of Hollywood momentarily led us to believe that there were dangers far beyond anything we previously thought to be real waiting out there to get us. Some of them hold up pretty well when we rewatch them as adults (Poltergeist), while others don’t (The Gate), but no matter how cheesy they can seem through grown-up eyes they’ll always hold a special place in our hearts. How the younger viewers Five Nights at Freddy’s is targeted towards wind up remembering the movie remains to be seen, but in the here and now it’s a serviceable if unremarkable thriller that will likely be most appreciated by those who haven’t seen many horror films before and fans of the video game series, two groups for which there is likely a good amount of overlap.
Mike (Josh Hutcherson) is struggling to keep up with the bills while raising his little sister Abby (Piper Rubio). This isn’t made any easier by his lingering trauma over the abduction of his brother when he was a child. Running out of options, he agrees to take a job as a night watchman for an abandoned pizza parlor styled after Chuck E. Cheese. The first night is largely uneventful, outside of the arrival of police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), who seems to know a suspiciously large amount about the building’s history, but as anyone who played a FNAF game (or watched someone else play one on Twitch), there are strange goings on at Freddy’s. The animatronic figures have still got quite a lot of life left in them, and when circumstances lead Mike to bring his sister to work one night, they take quite a liking to her…
The plot is pretty straightforward and the twists predictable, but the capable cast sells it pretty well, as does Emma Tammi’s direction. The movie largely takes its story a little too seriously, only occasionally leaning into the premise’s inherent campiness, which feels like a missed opportunity, but it’s still a sufficiently fun way to spend a little over an hour and a half. The main characters are developed enough that concern for their well-being builds up a good amount of suspense, and while it’s hardly the scariest movie ever made, it delivers more chills than one might expect given the PG-13 rating. I doubt it will make any serious “best of” lists, but it makes for decent, relatively-family-friendly Halloween viewing, and will likely spawn at least a few more lifelong horror fans (and sequels). ★★★
rated pg-13 for strong violent content, bloody images, and language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor