Nov 16, 2023

A Movie That Outshines Its Source Material

Five Nights At Freddy's
Universal Pictures (2023)
Movies based on video games have become increasingly common in the years since the first Super Mario Bros movie was released thirty years ago.  Some of them are better than others, but this is the first time that I've watched that I enjoyed significantly more than the game that it was based on.

The first Five Nights At Freddy's game was released in 2014.  It has resulted in over a dozen sequels, as well as a line of toys, clothing, and other merchandise that rivals Pokemon in quantity.  I played the first one on Steam a few years after it was released and was not at all impressed.  It's marketed as a survival horror game that seems to have been based on an elevator pitch of "what if the animatronics at Chuck E. Cheese came to life and started killing people".  It's a neat idea and I think it could have been a lot of fun if they put some time and effort into making an actual video game out of it, but I found it to be less a video game and more of a glorified interactive screen saver... something akin to Night Trap on Sega CD, but without full motion video.

For starters, you don't move your character in the game.  You just look at different screens in the security room and occasionally press buttons to open and close doors in an effort to try to keep the characters from breaking in and killing you.  It's the kind of thing that could have been a mildly amusing Shockwave game in a web browser in the late 90's.  A lot of people seem to really enjoy it, so maybe it's a generational thing or maybe the sequels get a little more robust, but I didn't find it to be scary, or immersive, or engaging.  Frankly, I can't think of a game that I've ever played, on any console, that was more boring.  The best compliment I'll pay it is that it technically qualifies as a video game in the same way that a tomato technically qualifies as a fruit, but just as I don't want a tomato in my fruit salad, I'm not interested in having Five Nights At Freddy's on my laptop or game console.

When I first heard that they were making a Five Nights At Freddy's movie, my first thought was "didn't they already do that?".  Willy's Wonderland was released on February 12th, 2021.  It was originally planned for a theatrical release in 2020, but it was released to streaming services instead because theaters were closed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.  It has been described as a ripoff of the Five Nights At Freddy's game series, and I don't disagree, but I think it's a hell of a lot more fun than the games are.  It stars Nicolas Cage as a janitor who doesn't speak a single word of dialogue throughout the entire film as he destroys eight animatronic characters from a Chuck E. Cheese style establishment who have been possessed by cannibalistic murderers.

Unsurprisingly, the Five Nights At Freddy's movie has a lot in common with Willy's Wonderland in that they both involve a male protagonist battling against possessed animatronics at a stand-in for Chuck E. Cheese, but this time, the creatures aren't possessed by the spirits of Satanic killers.  I have no idea how closely this movie follows whatever story is told in the game series, and I don't want to risk spoiling it for anyone who hasn't had the opportunity to see it, but I will say that the two movies have enough differences to make both worth watching.  Neither one is a stone cold horror classic by any means, but there's enough cheesy fun here to have a good time watching them as a double feature.  I'm not sure which of the two movies I would say is better, but I do think that both of them are a hell of a lot more fun than the game.