The past few years have been a bit of a renaissance for video game adaptations. Films and TV shows like Arcane, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, The Last of Us, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, and even Cyberpunk: Edgerunners have all given gamers legitimate reason to believe that Hollywood may have finally, permanently broken its long-standing video game curse. It’s partly thanks to those titles, in fact, that there’s been considerable anticipation and excitement surrounding Five Nights at Freddy’s, Universal and Blumhouse’s new live-action adaptation of the popular video game franchise of the same name.
Unfortunately, Five Nights at Freddy’s doesn’t deliver the kind of edge-of-your-seat horror experience that fans will likely expect from it. On the contrary, the PG-13 thriller has little to offer in terms of jump scares or tension. Instead, it delivers an overstuffed, convoluted plot that drags it down more than it lifts it up. The film itself isn’t bad, but as a live-action adaptation of Five Nights at Freddy’s, it falls far short of the mark.
There’s a brilliance to the simplicity of the original Five Nights at Freddy’s. The 2014 video game is essentially a minimalist, first-person horror experience where you play as a night guard at a family pizza restaurant. As you learn via a handful of voicemails, you have to use the security office’s locking doors and video monitors to prevent the restaurant's murderous animatronics from reaching you and brutally killing you. Of course, every time you use the office’s monitors and doors, you diminish your limited supply of electricity, which means playing Five Nights at Freddy’s is as much about resource management as it is about multitasking (and not dying).
In the nine years since its release, the game has spawned a massive, popular multimedia franchise. Along the way, its lore has grown increasingly complex and detailed. As a result, die-hard fans now know practically everything they’d need to about the possessed animatronic animals at the center of the series. At the same time, however, the franchise’s core games have all remained fairly simple — and have all continued to focus almost exclusively on terrifying their players. Consequently, while the original Five Nights at Freddy’s is known now for its memorably designed animatronic killers, it’s also still considered one of the most anxiety-inducing horror games in recent memory.
The same can’t be said for the franchise’s first live-action film. The thriller is not only less gruesome than it has any real right to be, but it’s also more concerned with overcomplicating its human characters’ lives than it is with trying to make viewers feel the same suffocating combination of tension and dread as the video games that have inspired it. Unlike The Last of Us (and even The Super Mario Bros. Movie), Five Nights at Freddy’s doesn’t ultimately have enough faith in the strength of its source material.
There are some genuinely memorable moments in Five Nights at Freddy’s — and even more exciting ideas. The film’s second-act decision to bring its hero’s young, vulnerable sister into its dangerous central setting specifically lays the foundation for it to go to some incredibly intense places. It never really goes far enough, though, choosing to do away with its source material’s unique brand of horror in favor of something clunkier and more family-friendly.
Its decision to do so may prove divisive among fans. While there are some who will prefer the film’s take on its now-iconic property, others may find themselves wishing that it had taken a simpler and scarier path. Either way, there’s no denying that — for better or worse — Blumhouse’s Five Nights at Freddy’s offers a decidedly different experience than its source material.