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The latest horror film from Blumhouse concerns a security guard tasked with safeguarding a long-shuttered family-themed pizza restaurant whose giant animatronic animal characters spring to life and go on murderous rampages.
And that’s the most credible element of the story.
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Based on, what else, a hugely successful video game franchise, Five Nights at Freddy’s, premiering simultaneously in theaters and on Peacock, never quite figures out what it wants to be. It seems to be aiming for cult status, but isn’t nearly transgressive enough to achieve it. It promises a gore fest, but keeps the violence sanitized enough to secure a PG-13 rating. And rather than expand on the sort of mayhem contained in the video game experience, it provides a tragic backstory that seeks to provide emotional depth but instead just slows the proceedings to a crawl. The ultimate result is a snooze.
Beaten to the big-screen punch a few years ago by the very similar Willy’s Wonderland, which at least had the courage of its gonzo convictions, Freddy’s also suffers from a lack of genuine scares.
It’s refreshing that the homicidal animatronic characters — Freddy Fazbear, the restaurant’s bear mascot; Bonnie, a bow tie-wearing rabbit; Chica, a chicken wearing a bib emblazoned with the phrase “Let’s Eat!”; and Foxy, a pirate fox with a metal hook — are not CGI-rendered, but rather creations of the venerable Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
Unfortunately, while these villains are apparently faithful renditions of the characters in the game, they’re about as scary as the figures found in Disney’s Hall of Presidents. (Actually, scratch that — some of those presidents are way scarier.)
The hero of the story is Mike (Josh Hutcherson, still looking for that post-Hunger Games breakout role), in desperate need of work after losing his gig as a mall security guard for punching out a man he mistakenly believed had kidnapped a little boy. It was a mistake born out of a traumatic event when he was 12 years old, in which his younger brother was snatched by a male stranger and never seen again. In an effort to remember clues to the kidnapper’s identity, he drugs himself to sleep every night to revisit the scenario in his dreams. Which results in a lot of cinematic repetition, as we’re forced to watch the scene over and over, with variations involving a group of ghostly children.
Steady employment is especially crucial for Mike because he’s trying to maintain sole custody of his 10-year-old sister, Abby (Piper Rubio, utterly adorable), and prevent her from falling into the clutches of their Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson, amusingly playing against type), a woman so villainous she makes the Wicked Witch of the West look misunderstood. So he reluctantly takes the only job offered by a smarmy career counselor (Matthew Lillard, returning to his Scream horror film roots): manning the overnight shift at the titular establishment, which has been left unchanged since its ’80s heyday.
There he repeatedly encounters Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), a local cop who seems to have an inordinate amount of time on her hands and for some reason takes an inordinate interest in what goes on at Freddy’s. Things go from bad to worse when a group of local toughs hired by Aunt Jane break into Freddy’s while Mike is off-duty to trash the joint so he’ll lose his job. Needless to say, Freddy Fazbear and his cohorts don’t take kindly to the intrusion, with gruesome results.
We eventually learn the tragic secret explaining why the animatronic figures have come to life, but the backstory is depicted in such torturously tedious fashion (hint: This is actually a ghost story) that we’ve long since ceased to care. And while no one is exactly looking for verisimilitude in a film about killer puppets, there are so many ridiculous plot convolutions that you’ll desperately wish you were home just playing the damn game.
On a side note, if you were ever hopelessly addicted to that relentlessly catchy Romantics song “Talking in Your Sleep,” this film will definitely cure you.
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