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Movie Review: “Five Nights at Freddy’s”

By Bob Garver

Movie Review: “Five Nights at Freddy’s”

Last month, I wrote about “The Exorcist: Believer” actually working pretty well as a taut kidnapping thriller until the requisite demon possession stuff kicked in. Now comes “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” which has the opposite problem: the kidnapping-thriller elements get in the way of the supernatural stuff. I think the difference is that I wasn’t exactly eager to get to the possessed children, but I am eager to spend time with possessed child-friendly robots from a family entertainment center. They can have my full attention, no need for distractions from terrified families.

Josh Hutcherson stars as Mike, a protagonist with a mess of a life. He can’t hold a job, he’s struggling to keep custody of his kid sister Abby (Piper Rubio), and he suffers from PTSD from his brother’s abduction when he was a child. His career counselor (Matthew Lillard) informs him that the only job available is working overnight security at the defunct Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Mike thinks that maybe the job will be so undemanding that he can sleep through the nights without anyone noticing, but local cop Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) keeps him on his toes. Besides, even with all the darkness and emptiness, it’s hard to sleep knowing that the main room features a creepy robotic house band.

For the first few shifts, things go bump in the night, but Mike figures it all has a rational explanation. Meanwhile, his aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson) plots to gain custody of Abby, because apparently the state gives out huge checks to guardians. She hires goons to wreck up Freddy’s so Mike will get fired. Abby’s babysitter is unavailable, so Mike has to bring her to Freddy’s with him, and… she gets a surprisingly warm welcome is all I’ll say.

At this point, the film is about halfway in, and I have to say I was having a good time. It isn’t brilliant by any means, but it works as a fun guilty pleasure with the killer robots making a mess of disposable goons that answer to a scenery-chomping Masterson. They’re sure to be full-on bad guys preying on Mike and Abby soon enough, but for now it’s okay to laugh heartily as a scumbag gets attacked by a robotic cupcake.

But then the movie makes a fatal mistake: it starts taking itself too seriously. Mike’s obsession with learning about what happened to his brother crowds out the plot about the goofy robots, as does the longstanding lore of children going missing at Freddy’s and drama in Vanessa’s past. I can understand the filmmakers wanting the movie to be smarter and deeper than it appears, but when the movie is sold on supposedly-jovial robots haunting a children’s emporium, it needs to stay in a certain lane.

It seems a lot of people are unhappy with “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” The film’s Rotten Tomatoes score is below 30% and its domestic box office dropped off 75% from one weekend to the next (yes, I know Halloween passing was a factor, but that’s still bad). I don’t think the problem is that audiences can’t “get into” the movie, so much as the movie can’t keep its audience’s interest. I think the majority of people enjoy the movie for about half its runtime, and then it takes a downturn that sends them home unhappy. It doesn’t help that the explanations we eventually get are confusing and the characters’ motivations highly questionable, but the real problem is that by the end, the movie just isn’t fun or exciting anymore. The last act is so bloated that it feels like it takes five nights to finish.

Grade: C-

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” is playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock. The film is rated PG-13 for strong violent content, bloody images, and language. Its running time is 109 minutes.

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