Five Nights at Freddy’s (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
When it comes to “things that should be kid-friendly but are actually terrifying,” the top spot is forever reserved for clowns. But perhaps not far behind those red-nosed, face-painted fiends are creepy mascots and rickety animatronics. At least, that’s what Blumhouse studios is banking on with their latest horror flick, Five Nights at Freddy’s. Based on the cult-classic video game series, the film features a night-shift security guard at a closed-down pizzeria/arcade (think Chucky E. Cheese) inhabited by four murderous animatronic mascots. It’s an intriguing premise perfectly suited for an immersive horror story. Unfortunately, while not a total failure, the film is unable to become greater than the sum of its parts.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is not a bad movie. In fact, it has a lot of strong elements. There is a fun retro 80s vibe, tapping into some Stranger Things-inspired nostalgia. The aesthetics pop. The appearance of the animatronic mascots is instantly iconic and memorable. The setting of the rundown pizzeria is suitably creepy and claustrophobic. Even Josh Hutcherson (of Hunger Games fame) is more than capable in the lead role. With all these strong elements, it is surprising how unentertaining and almost dull the movie is.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Five Nights at Freddy’s is that it stumbles in the one area a horror movie simply must get right—the horror. With the twisting-and-turning backstory and plot, the film doesn’t leave much time for scares. I did appreciate that it restrained itself by opting for a PG-13 rather than R-rating. There are some gruesome and violent moments, but they are mostly implied or occur off-screen. The film elects to unsettle audiences with jump scares and creepy ambiance rather than disgusting viewers with gore. I commend that decision, but the execution left me a bit cold.
It takes 38 minutes to fully reveal the animatronics, and even longer for them to start wreaking havoc. In fact, their malicious hijinks are largely contained to just two sequences (one in the middle, and one at the end). These moments showcase the type of edge-of-your-seat, unhinged thrills the film could have offered, but the attempts at deeper human drama keep getting in the way.
Limited exposure to the monster is nothing new in horror films. In JAWS, one of the greatest horror films ever made, the shark appears on screen for a meager four minutes. Yet, the ominous threat of the shark infuses the entire runtime with tension and unease. Five Nights at Freddy’s lacks that “ticking time bomb” feeling. I remained interested in the film not because of a gripping sense of building tension but simply because I was counting down the nights spent at Freddy’s and telling myself that at some point something exciting must happen.
There is also a somewhat indecisive tone. The film attempts to strike a balance between embracing the campy and silly aspects while also exploring more serious human drama. But these conflicting tones undercut each other, leading to a film that tries to be lighthearted without being funny and a horror flick that isn’t all that scary.
In the end, perhaps the best description of Five Nights at Freddy’s is “unfulfilled promise.” With so much wasted potential, I might even be intrigued by the idea of a sequel. Although, after this mostly lackluster introduction, five nights at Freddy’s might prove to be too long a stay for most viewers.
Engage The Film
Perception and Reality
There are various thematic threads, although what the film is trying to communicate is a bit muddy. The movie explores this question: What is real and what is not? Mike (Josh Hutcherson’s character) is obsessed with dreams. He is shown reading a book about the subconscious mind and expresses his belief that truth can be found in dreams. Abby, Mike’s sister, also seems to live much of her life in her own head. At one point, Mike chides her for having an imaginary friend, saying “At least I’m real!” Later, another character argues that Abby is mentally ill because she “talks to magical creatures who don’t exist.”
In one sense, Mike and Abby are both vindicated due to the existence of ghosts. Yet, the film also seems to explore these beliefs in a more negative light. Nearly all the main characters are held captive by their minds. Mike is unable to move beyond a tragic event in his past, Vanessa (a police officer and ally) is governed by fear and remorse, and even the ghosts themselves are enslaved by a false sense of reality.
In contrast, the power of images is a motif, particularly relating to Abby’s drawings and artwork. These tangible pictures are able to cut through the hazy understandings held in the mind and root people in the truth of the moment. The mind can play tricks, but the eyes reveal the truth.
For Christians, there are several ways to engage with these themes. On the surface, there is the classic theme about belief in the invisible realm against rational objections. But on a deeper level, there are implications about overcoming the mental bondage of grief and fear. Mike is obsessed with finding truth in his dreams, but he ultimately comes to realize that the truth that matters most is the physical world of the present, not the dreams of the past. According to Scripture, Christians must be transformed by the renewal of our mind in order to discern the truth (Romans 12:2). Our minds can mislead or obscure our perception if we don’t remain grounded in the truth of God and His word.