It’s interesting, after seeing an unofficial and very bloody film inspired by the game Five Nights At Freddy’s in Willy’s Wonderland two years ago, to see an official adaptation that goes in an entirely different direction. Director Emma Tammi and game creator Scott Cawthon — who’s a co-writer and producer here — have given us an adaptation that leans more into the drama and mythos behind the games than the slashing and killing by animatronic robots. It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it makes for a surprisingly muted video-game adaptation.
If the low-key, character-first approach weren’t obvious from previous screenwriters attached to the project, including Monster House’s Gil Kenan and Gremlins’ Chris Columbus, it should have been put beyond doubt by the presence of Josh Hutcherson. This is a man you call when you need a put-upon lead who can break your heart even in far-fetched or outright impossible situations: look at Bridge To Terabithia or The Hunger Games. Sure enough, Hutcherson embodies Mike, who’s struggling to hold a job in order to provide for his sister Abby (Piper Rubio), and obsessed with the abduction of a younger brother years before. He reluctantly takes a job as a night watchman at a shuttered restaurant, where giant animatronic figures loom in dark corners and kill the odd visitor. Only local police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) suggests that he should be wary of the place, and she won’t say why.
Tammi similarly seems more focused on philosophical questions of what’s bringing these robots to life, rather than just getting her splatter on
What’s unusual is that Mike more or less ignores the monsters for most of the running time and is blissfully unaware of their threat. He’s preoccupied with trying to lucid-dream clues about his brother’s disappearance, and while the giant animals freak him out, they’re not his main concern. Tammi similarly seems more focused on philosophical questions of what’s bringing these robots to life, and why they might kill, rather than just getting her splatter on, aside from a couple of quick scenes.
That’s not necessarily a problem, except that Mike becomes essentially a bystander until very late in the film. Perhaps that’s inevitable from the title — if he was scared stiff immediately, why would he go back for four more nights? — but it creates a disconnect between hero and monster that drains the film of much of its tension. There are jump scares to keep you going and a solid performance from Hutcherson, but this really feels like more of a one-night stand.