Horror meets family drama in ‘Five Nights’

Tammi explores the dark side of animatronics

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LOS ANGELES, Oct 30, (AP): Just in time for Halloween comes “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” a video game adaptation with the potential threat of demented Chuck E. Cheese-like animatronic creatures running amok. But the trick turns out to be on us. The movie – built from developer Scott Cawthon’s video game about anthropomorphic robots killing people – poorly fits into this vehicle and the problems start with the creatures themselves. Yes, they have unsettling bright eyes and teeth. But, c’mon, one wears a bow tie, like a guest on PBS.

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Josh Hutcherson, (left), and Piper Rubio in a scene from ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s.’ (AP)

They’re more threadbare than eerie. Yes, they stomp around like The Terminator but one is a chubby chicken with the slogan “Let’s Eat.” They look about as scary as overgrown Care Bears with a drinking problem. One is, we’re not kidding, a cupcake. Caught between PG and R, as well as lost at the crossroads of inadvertent comedy and horror, the PG-13 “Five Nights at Freddy’s” has to go down as one of the poorest films in any genre this year. Like the video game, our hero here is a night watchman who is mysteriously hired to look after the ruins of an abandoned children’s pizza-and-games restaurant. We learn that it was shuttered in the ‘80s due to a raft of missing kids. Josh Hutcherson plays the guard with a mix of hotheadedness and compassion. “Just do your job and you’ll be fine,” he is advised. “Don’t let the place get to you.” Why has he taken this silly job? To keep custody of his young sister, Abby (a very good Piper Rubio), proving he’s a good guy.

Other actors include the great Mary Stuart Masterson, slumming it as his aunt, and Matthew Lillard chewing scenery as if it were a slice of pepperoni. Director Emma Tammi – using a script credited to her, Cawthon, and Seth Cuddeback – do their darndest to fill the film up with a backstory and a reason for there to be murderous animatronic characters in the first place. So we have family betrayal, the lifetime pain of an abducted sibling, a possible romantic interest, and a plot so tortured it should have a cameo in “Saw.” “I made a mistake. I don’t want this,” our hero screams toward the end and you can feel the movie theater’s paying audience agreeing wholeheartedly. There are so many questions that will keep you awake. Why was “Talking in Your Sleep” by the Romantics used so heavily? Why do the scriptwriters not understand human decay? Why does the dialogue often veer from flirty to angry so abruptly in the same scene? Why is it revealed only in the last 10 minutes that the maniacal Care Bears can talk? It’s ironic that much of the coolest action happens in a dream state. You may need to nudge your seatmates awake to rejoin the show when that happens.

Maybe that’s why “Talking in Your Sleep” was needed. The filmmakers waste the rare attempt in a horror flick to make a kids’ ball pit scary, but the absolute lowest point is when the supposedly murderous animatronics – Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie, Chica, and Foxy – host a kiddie dance party. It’s as if even they can’t overcome their inner nature, having originated from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. This whole thing should have remained a game. “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” a Universal Pictures release in theaters and streaming on Peacock starting Friday, is rated PG-13 for “strong violent content, bloody images and language.” Running time: 110 minutes. Zero stars out of four.

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