FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S Review: Great for Gamers, Meh for Moviegoers

Can you endure the terror of Five Nights at Freddy's?
Five Nights at Freddy's

Nearly ten years after its debut, the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise finally makes its big-screen debut with a live-action theatrical feature. Since its debut, the point-and-click-survival horror game created by Scott Cawthon has spawned sequels, spinoffs, book tie-ins, and tons of merchandise. The franchise finally takes its grand step into cinema, and the results are sadly mediocre.

Within the live-action film adaptation of Five Nights at Freddy’s, there is a clear reverence for the game series it’s based on and its lore. That is admirable, especially considering the franchise’s creator Scott Cawthon co-wrote and produced the feature. However, while there is a clear reverence for the game and its basic premise, it doesn’t coalesce into a satisfying horror movie experience.

The Loss of Childhood Innocence

Adapting the storyline from the first game in the series, Josh Hutcherson stars in Five Nights as Mike Schmidt, a down-on-his-luck young adult who is washing out of all his low-level security jobs. On top of that, he desperately needs work since he is the primary guardian and caretaker of his younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio).

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Mike is haunted by the dreams of his youth when his little brother was kidnapped right in front of him when he was 12 years old. His little brother disappeared, never seen again. It’s implied that his brother’s kidnapping resulted in his idyllic family life being destroyed and falling into disarray. As a result, Mike is still desperately clinging to that pivotal moment in his life. He takes sleeping medication to continue searching his dreams for that moment, searching for some kind of clue regarding his brother’s abductor.

Mike’s inability to move on from this traumatizing incident still affects him in the present, causing him to blow up at work along with neglecting his little sister, and Mike and Abby’s Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson) is looking to have custody of Abby transferred over to her.

Five Nights at Freddy's
FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S, from Universal Pictures and Blumhouse in association with Striker Entertainment.

As a means to get some sort of job to improve his standing as Abby’s guardian, Mike accepts a dead-end, undesirable security gig from his career counselor, Steve Raglan (Matthew Lillard). His job? To make sure no one comes in or out of the derelict family entertainment center Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza.

Besides looking like a deathtrap and wellspring of tetanus, Freddy Fazbear’s pizza is home to some creepy, automaton animatronics that can move on their own. But that’s not only the dark secrets the once-happy pizza place holds. It was apparently the site where some children went missing, and the animatronic monsters don’t seem to take kindly to new visitors.

Mike thinks the rotting establishment might somehow grant him the key to discovering what happened to his brother, but it might come at the cost of losing what family he still has left. It also looks like Freddy and his friends want a new playmate to join their group permanently.

It’s easy to see how Cawthon’s games became so popular. The idea of being trapped in a dilapidated Chuckie Cheese-style restaurant with creepy animatronics roaming around is scary. Just like that primal fear of clowns, pizza place animatronic cartoon characters, which are supposed to be nice and friendly, can also come off as the stuff of nightmares. Subverting these nice and friendly childhood archetypes into something terrifying is an effective way to set up a horror premise.

Five Nights at Freddy's
(from left) Foxy, Chica, Freddy Fazbear, and Bonnie in Five Nights at Freddy’s, directed by Emma Tammi. © 2023 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Also, the other layer to those fears is how the games reveal the element of lost or missing children. So a place of happy memories that’s supposed to be safe and fun becomes a place of nightmares. However, while the games tap into those primal fears, the Five Nights at Freddy movie does not quite pull it off.

An Experience That Simply Isn’t Scary

Despite the effective setup for Five Nights at Freddy’s, director Emma Tammi simply isn’t able to tap into those primal fears of Fazbear animatronic characters or a family entertainment pizza place becoming corrupted and terrifying. The movie’s biggest failing is that it’s simply not scary at all.

Now, the movie certainly has its moments of cheap jump scares and frights, but that’s about the most that comes out of the film. The Freddy Fazbear characters themselves, while they do play a role, are not scary at all.

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Josh Hutcherson as Mike in Five Nights at Freddy’s, directed by Emma Tammi. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Credit where credit is due to Tammi and producer Jason Blum for the film’s focus on practical effects and costume work, especially where the animatronic characters are concerned. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop did a nice job creating the characters for a live-action format, and they look faithful to their game counterparts. It looks like they jumped right out of the game. However, where the film is concerned, they aren’t that frightening.

It’s not helpful that midway through the film, the animatronics all gather together with Abby and Mike and build a fort in the middle of the restaurant. Yes, there is an understanding that the animatronics are these lost, tortured souls, and maybe even misunderstood, but they don’t amount to that creepy, unsettling feeling the movie should invoke.

Five Nights at Freddy's - Still 1
Piper Rubio as Abby in Five Nights at Freddy’s, directed by Emma Tammi. © 2023 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

A Clunky Storyline

The movie’s other major problem is that the film’s subplots are often disparate, and they never come together as a cohesive whole. There is something very vague about all the details and exposition. The film’s script, which Cawthon co-wrote with Tammi and Seth Cuddleback, seems to have elements of three different screenplays that were smooshed together. As a result, the overall storyline and narrative don’t line up very well.

What’s confusing is that Mike Schmidt is desperate to relive the trauma of his little brother being taken to find some clues about what happened. Yet in all his memories, his little sister is nowhere to be found. Was his sister not born yet? How old is Mike supposed to be now? What happened to his parents after his brother was taken? It’s all very vague.

Five Nights at Freddy's - Still 1
(from left) Bonnie, Freddy Fazbear, and Chica in Five Nights at Freddy’s, directed by Emma Tammi. Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures.

While the film is clearly faithful to the game’s core concepts, characters, and premise, those elements are not satisfactorily translated into the film adaptation. The big reveals are not seeded very well. One major plot twist doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. At one point in the movie, an additional animatronic character appears, but the character disappears soon after.

The movie is reverent to Cawthon’s game and puts in copious effort to translate the game storyline into a movie. That is admirable because so many video game adaptations do not have that level of care in adapting their source material and making things accurate. However, unless the moviegoers are heavily engrossed in the game series, they will likely not understand much of what is unfolding. While Five Nights at Freddy’s is faithful to the games, the film’s script lacks cohesion.

Five Nights at Freddy's - Still 2
Josh Hutcherson as Mike in Five Nights at Freddy’s, directed by Emma Tammi. Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures.

Not to mention, the narrative raises many questions that are never effectively answered or addressed. Hutcherson is an underrated acting talent, but he’s not as proactive as Mike. He needs to be frustratingly guided through every significant event and have his hand held during every explanation.

Mike’s character lacks agency and sequences where the character discovers more about what took place at Fazbear’s on his own. Also, the subplot about being haunted by his dreams starts promisingly, but it loses steam before the final act and essentially goes nowhere.

The film looks like an experience that only fans of the games will enjoy and appreciate. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for longtime fans of the games and franchise, they might find more entertainment from the flick than the general moviegoing audience.

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Overall, Five Nights at Freddy’s is an earnest attempt at adapting the games. There is certainly effort and reverence here, but while the movie is faithful to the games and directly adapts elements straight from the gameplay experience, it doesn’t coalesce into an effective, engaging cinematic experience. For that, I rate Five Nights at Freddy’s a 5/10.

Five Nights at Freddy’s will be receiving a day and date release in theaters and NBCUniversal’s Peacock on Friday, October 27.

About Five Nights at Freddy’s

Five Nights at Freddy's poster artwork

Release Date: October 27, 2023
Directed by: Emma Tammi
Written by: Scott Cawthon, Emma Tammi, and Seth Cuddeback, based on the video game series created by Scott Cawthon
Producers: Jason Blum, Scott Cawthon
Executive Producers: Bea Sequeira, Russell Binder, Marc Mostman, Christopher H. Warner
Production: Blumhouse
 Universal Pictures
Genre: Horror
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, Kat Conner Sterling, and Piper Rubio, with Mary Stuart Masterson and Matthew Lillard

The terrifying horror game phenomenon becomes a blood-chilling cinematic event, as Blumhouse— the producer of M3GANThe Black Phone, and The Invisible Man— brings Five Nights at Freddy’s to the big screen. The film follows a troubled security guard as he begins working at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. While spending his first night on the job, he realizes the night shift at Freddy’s won’t be so easy to make it through.

Are you ready to face the terror of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza? Can you survive the night surrounded by the ominous shadows of horror? Will you dare to experience the ultimate horror of Five Nights at Freddy’s on October 27, 2023? Let us know your thoughts and survival plans on social media!

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Jeff Harris

Jeffrey is an entertainment journalist and podcast host based in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Radio, TV, & Film and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. Jeffrey is also a Staff Writer at where he writes about movies, TV, games, wrestling, interviews talent, and covers special events such as Anime Expo, Comic-Con, and CinemaCon. When Jeffrey is not binging his favorite seasonal anime or show, he enjoys playing dodge ball, gaming, watching films, and enjoying UT football. You can find him on Twitter @Wheeljack83.