The world of franchise-based movies is a harsh mistress. Icons of the genre, such as the 1993 live-action “Super Mario Bros.” or 1994’s “Street Fighter,” are notorious for being intensely flawed, lackluster films designed more to sell toys than to tell an interesting story. But the genre is not innately doomed: recent films, like this year’s “Super Mario Bros. Movie,” have broken this long-standing curse. With a new precedent being set, Blumhouse’s “Five Nights at Freddy’s” had high hopes from both fans and critics alike. How would this film fare in a new age of franchise features?
To be perfectly blunt, the new “Five Nights at Freddy’s” movie is mediocre at best and a downright mess at worst. The core of this issue lies within the film’s split personality; its willingness to operate as a part of the FNAF franchise is at complete odds with its effort to be a functional (and watchable) movie. Although it is admirable that a small indie game from 2014 has risen to such stardom as to require its own movie, the film’s fascination with its own source material takes up too much of the focus, leaving the viewer with a sour attempt at a cohesive film. No amount of franchise key jingling can save a sinking ship, and honey, we’re going overboard.
Here’s an intriguing question: how heavily should a movie rely on its source material? How much outside knowledge is a viewer required to have to enjoy a movie about an existing franchise? It’s something I often consider when I think about superhero movies, which are frequently based on pre-existing franchises. Do I need to peruse “The Dark Knight Returns” in order to enjoy “The Dark Knight Rises?” Do I need to scrutinize “Watchmen” in order to find its corresponding movie entertaining? Do I need to play the FNAF games, read the FNAF novels, in order to enjoy the FNAF movie?
I believe a movie has to hold up on its own, regardless of what franchise it belongs to or what outside material it’s based on. That’s the beauty behind modern Marvel movies; you don’t need to fully understand a character’s lore or read their comics in order to enjoy the film. A franchise movie needs to be a good movie first and foremost; it needs to be able to stand on its own merits rather than using references as a crutch.
That’s my main issue with this film: it’s a good FNAF movie, but not a good movie. The movie’s entire story is one giant reference to the games/novels, but the story itself, regardless of any FNAF relations, is mediocre.
Plot points, specifically those that are movie-specific, feel underdeveloped and not fully realized. Themes associated with them suffer the same fate; issues and ideas are brought up and then never explored or given time to breathe, resulting in a film that feels like it has no heart.
The references make up for this somewhat; they are overt easter eggs that relate to overarching theories, community icons, lore, etc. But the lackluster story—again, inherently a FNAF reference—is flimsy, and it brings down the FNAF aspect by association. This makes all the references feel soulless. Fake. Corporate. It feels like the producers made this movie to hit all the “horror movie tropes” and then did nothing more with it.
Even with the interesting winks and nods the movie gives to its source, the inherent inconsistency with the nature of other references brings down the quality as a whole.
Here’s a good example of what I mean. Ask anyone who remotely knows any sliver of FNAF lore, and the name William Afton is likely to come up. For those who don’t know, Afton is the true main antagonist of the FNAF story, a man who brutally murdered five children and stuffed them into animatronic suits. He’s an inherently despicable villain, an icon of the series, and his actions fuel the mystery and intrigue of the games. He’s essential.
So how does the movie handle such a pivotal character? How does the result of his actions shape the characters and their history? How much time will be dedicated to exploring this twisted, sick individual?
Ten minutes. He’s given 10 minutes of screen time. In a two-hour movie. One of the most important characters in the entire FNAF pantheon, an icon of his respective series, an admittedly interesting, broken man, is treated no better than a side character.
And here encompasses the point: A FNAF movie dictates that William Afton has to be featured somewhere; a successful movie dictates that this character is pivotal to the entire story and should be a focal point. Where the movie succeeds in its FNAF aspect, it fails in its obligations as a story, cheapening the entire product.
I take no pleasure in being this harsh on the movie. I’m a fan of FNAF, and I do agree that this piece was more oriented “to the fans” rather than to critics. But being intended for longtime enjoyers of the series does not excuse the movie from being a bland, mediocre film. Remove all the FNAF references, and it would be much less contentious to call this picture a boring mess. My hottest take is that this film feels like producers took a half-assed Netflix horror movie and slapped FNAF on top. Disappointing to say the least.
Here’s the rub: If you like FNAF, you’ll probably get a kick out of this flick. If you like good horror movies, look elsewhere. Like Cars 2. That travesty is definitely more disturbing than FNAF.
Teddy Droar is a senior majoring in psychology.