Spooky Season: ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s

Tiger Media Network

Something that needs to be discussed more often is how a critic analyzes a film to make a determination of a rating or score. In watching video game adaptations like the recent “Super Mario Bros.” film and being a fan of horror films – both of which have a less than favorable history with critics – I was examining the ways I rate films and what pushes up or down a score with Emma Tammi’s newest entry, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” horror video game adaptation on the forefront of the conversation. The letterboxed score distribution for this film has been all over the place with the vast majority of people rating the film three out of five stars, but more people than that collectively rated the film higher. The online discussion of reviews seems to reflect this mixed perspective as well. The conclusion I have come to is that in order to make a critical assessment of a film, a writer must set up their own set of criteria and therefore the ratings or reviews of others should be seen or examined after you have made your own analysis. If you change your mind after you can make adjustments. 

I think this unfiltered way of evaluating film not only limits a group-think mentality but also reveals to us the truest spectrum of opinions. That being said, I think the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (FNAF) film, while not perfect, was well done.

From Left to Right, it’s Bonnie, Freddy, and Chica

The FNAF film is not only a win for longtime players of the game franchise it is based on, but also for Blumhouse, Emma Tammi, its cast, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Peacock, and of course Universal. While the film has had very divisive discourse, I find my own perspective being on a more positive end of the spectrum. While the film certainly has flaws I don’t think they bring the overall score down too far. I don’t think that films need a strict standard means of analyzing what makes a film good and I wouldn’t use the same lens to analyze this film as I would a film like “The Handmaiden” or “Home Alone.” Amongst its standout qualities are its animatronic character design and realization, the portrayal of the main antagonist (while more brief than I would’ve liked it is excellent), and the world design. The main location of the film is reminiscent of the original 2014 jumpscare-filled game. While YouTuber cameos don’t feel all that natural, they are fun and feel well deserved. Mathew Lillard was a standout in this film. I hope to see more from him in the future of this franchise.

Chica and the iconic cupcake are true standouts in this film

Many critics of the film call the story confusing or convoluted and say the film is not scary enough. Firstly, to those detractors who find it confusing, I think the film does a good job of laying out the story in which the games are based very directly. It baffles me how the most highly rated films in the David Lynch filmography are praised by critics while being among the most “confusing” set of films ever but then films like these get pushback. For the fans criticizing the PG-13 rating and the film not being scary enough This reminds me of something R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps books, said that leads into this discussion. 

Stine said:

“Well, look at Goosebumps, no one ever dies. There are no guns. No one ever dies. If there’s a ghost, it happened a long time before the story started. The real world is pretty much kept out. That’s my one rule, my big rule for writing middle-grade horror, is that they have to know it’s a fantasy. They have to — the reader has to know this couldn’t happen, couldn’t really happen. It’s all just a story. And once they know that, if you’ve established that, and you’ve written it in a way they know that it couldn’t happen, then you can go pretty far. You can go pretty far with the scares.”

The film is like a classic “Goosebumps” episode in terms of its kind of scares, which is praise from me. I don’t think this first entry into this franchise needed to be a gore fest like “Saw” or even as slashery as something like “Scream” or “Halloween.”  It is meant to scare and creep out while also entertaining people, as the film is more than simply a scary story of possession. It is also the story of trauma brought on by a serial killer who tore children from their families. The film has heart and for some reason, I ate that up. Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, Piper Rubio, Bonnie, Chica, Foxy, and Freddy should all be credited for delivery on that important component. Oh and the Cupcake deserves credit too, it was a standout animatronic. 

Who could the killer be?

The FNAF film adaptation is a fun time in theaters. It delivers a spooky visual treat as well as family drama, and intense horrific moments with its haunted animatronic cast. I think that the issues presented by the negative end of the criticism come more from a place of people not getting what they expected. However, if you peel expectations back and enjoy the film for what it is as it is, even removing your expectations for what a film in a certain genre needs to be or has to qualify as a good film in that genre, then I believe you might like the film on its own. In Blumhouse tradition this film will potentially receive a sequel, so here is to hoping they push the envelope even further and see what they can do after all the discourse.

John Carter (He/Him and She/Her) is a senior at Fort Hays State University, studying Psychology. John has been reviewing films and interviewing talent since 2018. John hosts The Wynonna Knows Podcast and Dear Mr. Indigo Podcasts under the pseudonyms Wynonna Lincoln and Eduardo Valentine JR on Tiger Media Network’s KFHS Radio.