Imagine being stuck in an abandoned 80s family entertainment restaurant overnight. The threat of fun looms in the form of eerie animatronic figures, but the joy is just out of reach, and no one can explain why any of this exists.
That describes watching the first half of Five Nights at Freddy’s, based on the popular video game of the same name. Josh Hutcherson’s Mike Schmidt is hired as a security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese fill-in (or, more accurately, ShowBiz Pizza for viewers old enough to remember that franchise.) Bloody hijinks ensue.
Of course, it’s all much more complicated than that, and the first hour of Five Nights at Freddy‘s focuses on developing the somber history of Hutcherson’s character, which involves child abduction and, no doubt, some serious trauma. This is where Freddy’s suffers. The first hour of the film, while sprinkled with creepy imagery and jump scares, doesn’t quite live up to the concept’s potential.
The entire film rests squarely on the shoulders of the trio of Hutcherson, Piper Rubio, who plays Schmidt’s troubled sister Abby, and Elizabeth Lail in the role of Vanessa, a police officer with an interest in Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. While the actors perform their roles capably, the real star of Freddy’s is Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the group that designed and built the real-life animatronic versions of Freddy Fazbear and company. The animatronic characters are a joy to watch, and the movie is at its best when they’re featured on screen.
Those characters are truly used to their maximum potential in the final 40 minutes of Five Nights at Freddy’s, where the plot also finds its stride. In that portion of the film, Freddy’s becomes an enjoyable time, with all the twists, turns, and scares of a passable horror film.
Passable is the rule of the day for Five Nights at Freddy’s. The film is half self-important drama that seems to aspire to be a deep, profound journey into the nature of trauma, and half passable horror-thriller that mercifully gives way to a bit of whimsy about an hour into its runtime. Whether or not viewers wait out the former to enjoy the latter depends on their own endurance and commitment.