Five Nights at Freddy’s is Certified Rotten. At the time of writing, it has a measly 28 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes as reviews continue to pour onto social media denouncing this misshapen adaptation. Yet fans are stunned, convinced that somehow, maybe, critics just missed the point. But FNAF was never going to be good.
Production began eight years ago in 2015. This film has been in the works for nearly a decade, and in that time, it lost directors Gil Kenan and Chris Columbus, finally landing its third director Emma Tammi in October 2022. Don’t forget that creator Scott Cawthon also tried to get a FNAF film off the ground before teaming up with Blumhouse in 2015, so you’re looking at over a decade.
Just picture Jason Blum as the dog saying, “This is fine”, while the house burns down around him. That’s the FNAF movie.
They could’ve stuck a giant red flag on top of the pizzeria and it would still have been less subtle than its messy production. Just look at how many times The Flash changed hands, and how many times it was delayed. That movie was meant to come out before Justice League, and yet it only just released this year, deemed an irredeemable mess.
Executive producer Jason Blum also wasn’t kind to the film in press interviews. While he was “extremely proud” of the movie, much of the conversation was about sticking it to the naysayers who didn’t believe it would ever come to light. “Scott had been working on it as a movie with a studio for a while and that didn’t work out,” Blum said in an interview with IGN. “Everyone said we could never get the movie done, including, by the way, internally in my company. I was made fun of for pursuing this.”
The warning signs were splattered across the walls for years, but they were ignored. Instead of taking into account what was likely healthy skepticism, Cawthon wrote a script, scrapped it in the same year, and co-wrote another. Most reviewers agree that the final draft is a lore-obsessed mishmash that fails to balance camp and horror. Maybe when everyone is saying, ‘This looks shit mate’, take a step back and look at the wider picture.
Of course, those criticisms apply to the games too. FNAF has never had a compelling story, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The majority of its world is driven by backstories piled on top of backstories piled on top of backstories that continue to contradict and complicate what is ultimately a haunted house tale with The Muppets. You have to pour through wikis, comics, novels, and obscure in-game details to figure out what the hell Cawthon is trying to say, only to realise it’s a derivative mess anyway.
We’ve seen video game adaptations ‘break the curse’ numerous times, most recently with The Last of Us, but there’s a big reason a 1:1 re-telling of that story worked so well. It had a compelling narrative to begin with, and styled itself as a prestige narrative more inspired by movies and HBO shows than its peers. FNAF doesn’t. The first game’s whole appeal was watching people on YouTube shit themselves as the animatronics got closer and closer, eventually leaping around the corner. It was hardly the rich intimate history of the restaurant that piqued our interest.
Games can engross you without much story because you’re present in the world. The scares are meaningful because the control is handed to you, whereas with a movie, you’re a passive observer. There needs to be more to keep you hooked. You have to care for the characters and be able to root for their survival, otherwise it’s misery for misery’s sake. By all accounts, FNAF is more interested in infodumping deep cut lore, which might’ve worked in building a dedicated fanbase for the games, but impenetrable worldbuilding aimed at die-hard fans is self-indulgent and will inevitably bury your characters. FNAF needed a drastic overhaul to work as a movie, but the trailers alone show it’s too obsessed with the games’ forever unraveling mysteries and backstory.
FNAF isn’t just juggling the video game curse, but the supernatural horror genre that is notorious for its mountain of duds. Not to mention that the trailers tease Saw-like traps and brutal monsters, yet the film itself is rated PG-13. None of it makes any sense, everything we’ve heard about the film for years has spelled disaster, and Cawthon’s work on the FNAF games should’ve made it clear from the start that his involvement was going to drag it down further. Why are we surprised that it’s awful? It never shied away from that fact.
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