Five Nights at Freddy's (aka Bad Cupcake) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I recall first playing the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game way back in 2015. It was a simplistic jump-scare game but simple enough that it was a decent time-waster of a game. The premise was also simple enough to easily be made into a short film, maybe even feature-length, if the characters and atmosphere were compelling enough to carry it. Since that first game, however, this franchise has sputtered out of control with various sequel games, books, comic books, and a host of fan theories that have overwhelmed the internet. It’s impossible to keep any of this lore straight. All of this lore-obsession combines to turn that Five Nights at Freddy’s movie into one of the most incomprehensible horror movies of 2023.
If you’ve never heard of this franchise, here’s the gist of the setup in the film. Freddy Fassbear’s was a pizza chain similar to Chuck E. Cheese for its animatronic showcase. A dark history of horror shut the locations down, and now the animatronics are haunted by the ghosts of children who want to kill people. Mike, a security guard in this film, is hired to oversee the establishment and ensure that nobody breaks into the abandoned location. In truth, he seems to be watching the animatronics, which may kill him if he doesn’t watch closely. He’ll have to survive the night by constantly being awake to ensure he can keep this job and his life.
At least, that’s the premise I thought the film was going for. Sadly, too much else is going on, and none of it builds. Mike is established as a guy who can’t maintain a security job due to his trauma of having his brother abducted at an early age. Hoping for clues, Mike tries to tap into the power of his dreams to remember more of that fateful vacation day in Nebraska (the film apparently takes place in Minnesota, and I have no idea why Nebraska would be a vacation destination for Minnesotans outside of the cartoonish dreariness the film coats the state in). So, apparently, Mike is counting on sleeping on the job, even with murderous robots running about. Adding to that, he also has to fight for custody of his baby sister after their parents are out of the picture, made less easy by his domineering aunt. Adding to THAT, there’s an untrustworthy police officer filling Mike in on the Freddy lore like a walking Wikipedia article, removing any hope of him doing his own research on this place. Adding to ALL THAT, there’s also the matter of the evil owner who secretly maintains his house of horrors for some reason that is not explained in the movie but is possibly explained by some fan theory or whatever.
This film is a mess. It feels like it requires an absurd level of homework just to comprehend. Forget enjoying the film; I felt like I had to divulge through hours of videos and written theories just to piece everything together. A movie based on a video game should entice you to explore the games, not threaten to the point of confusion. I’m sure some game fans would argue that I'd probably love this movie if I invested as much time as they have into the lore. Somehow, I doubt I would, considering this film can’t answer the most basic questions like “Why is William Afton maintaining his restaurant of killer puppets?” and “Why is his daughter working with him to keep doing this?” If a film can’t answer the most basic questions of why a villain does what he does, that’s not a failure on my part for not having watched hours of gameplay and explainer videos. The film can’t even answer its own continuity, such as why one animatronic can apparently leave the building, but it’s a special animatronic that is never once shown or addressed before or after this scene. Of course, fans will point out this is a special version of Freddy, but who cares? It’s about as confounding as Afton’s final line, “I always come back,” which I do know is a line from the games, but it makes no sense why he would say it here, in the first Freddy movie.
Clearly, Five Nights at Freddy’s was not a movie made for non-fans and not in a “catch every Easter egg” sort of way. This film is all Easter eggs, and you better recognize them to fully appreciate the reference bonanza on display. The few that I did catch, like a cameo by MatPat where he utters his annoying YouTuber catchphrase, didn’t impress me, though. Maybe I should have played more games and read up more on this franchise before proceeding into the first Freddy movie. But after witnessing how much of an unfocussed dump of story elements was vomited out onto the screen, I think I’ll pass.