When I first dug into Five Nights at Freddy’s it was far from becoming the little horror film that could. Released both for free on Peacock and in theaters, the modestly budgeted adaption of the survival horror game went on to become Blumhouse’s highest grossing film ever and now has folks rethinking how they approach pre-existing IPs and film adaptations. .B. J. Colangelo had a really great theory on TikTok about why the film did so well – because of how it so perfectly activated its hyper specific fandom, rather than attempting to go the more lucrative four quadrant route most films attempt. Except for some “activation” eye color drama, it was pretty clear this was a film for fans, by the properties original creator who was heavily involved in the project; which was the reason why the film took nearly a decade to finally hit theaters.
While I write this I just saw the sequel was announced for halloween next year and will promptly start shooting spring 2024.
How’s that for a weird little film about some killer animatronics?
The film itself is a rather faithful adaptation, albeit with one exception to the first game’s story and follows our faithful night security guard Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson) who in order to keep custody of his younger autistic sister Abby (Piper Rubio) takes a job at the now defunct Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza (Think a WAY creepier Chuck E Cheese). While he thinks he’s going to be keeping the riff raff out of the derelict property, he soon discovers he’s responsible for keeping the homicidal animatronics that come alive at night in. Abby, who’s a completely new character to this universe, works to not only infuse the film with some real stakes, but also gives the story a much needed heart. This is because Mike is understandably a rather scary, paranoid mess. He’s got a good heart, but he’s suffering from severe PTSD after witnessing the abduction of his younger brother as a child, and the resulting erratic behavior is only amplified by the fact that he’s hunted at night by a giant animatronic bunny.
I thought the choice to make Mike as vulnerable as he is, thanks to his past trauma, really set the stage for a more unconventional take on the story than you’d normally get from Blumhouse. But the thing that really stuck with me is his sister Abby and her arc. It’s something I’ve seen countless properties attempt, this sort of Amblin-esque, 80’s story that has the kids at the forefront. It wasn’t completely out of the norm for a horror film in the 80s to feature a kid protagonist and be targeted to that demo, but we live in VERY different times. I think the closest thing we’ve gotten to it before FNAF that worked as well as this did is Stranger Things. It’s because Abby is in this precarious position, we get to see Freddy and company through her eyes, and it’s something you don’t expect. You have these terrifying automatons having real moments of wonder with this young girl, and it’s downright wholesome. This perspective allows these creations to be viewed the same way they are by the property’s fans who collect countless figures and plushies based on their favorite of the game’s lineup.
The film just hit 4K UHD and the film just looks great. It’s really hard to appreciate how big the gap is between streaming 4K and actual disc spinning, physical media 4K until you’re watching a UHD. Personally I think 4K streaming looks more like a decent blu-ray and it’s not really as apparent until you’re trying to compare apples to apples with a film like this with a lot of really dimly lit scenes where those online algorithms can struggle with not turning into mashed potatoes, like Game of Thrones infamous Long Night episode. The disc really delivers the best possible presentation of the film with inky blacks and little to no compression artifacts in those super dark scenes.The neon lighting and the animatronics really pop with the HDR and it only makes these scenes look that much closer to the source. The only thing that for my money that would have made this presentation any better is more by the way of extras, there’s a few EPK’s, but no director’s commentary or anything else that digs into the mythology or the many unsuccessful attempts to bring this story to the silver screen.
I would have honestly LOVED a commentary with the games creator Scott Cawthon going through what the decade long process was like for him as a creator and his approach to the script.
Revisiting it for this review allowed me to really dig into the film’s subtext about the loss of innocence, which is the core theme that affects every character in the film. We have Mike who’s been broken since losing his brother, which shattered his childhood and led to his family’s dissolution, and Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) the policewoman who also grew up too soon. The animatronics – fans know, and we have Abby, who we witness having that surreal and scarring moment of loss when the animatronics eventually turn on her. This infuses the scares with some real honest to God stakes and you don’t get that often in horror. I was expecting spam in a pizza joint and what I got was a real movie that had some poignant things to say, WHILE also delivering some truly unnerving moments. Like I said, its wasnt the easy route by any means, but I am truly glad it worked and we will be getting more of it.