Saturday, May 18, 2024

Robo Watch: Five Nights at Freddy's (2023)

Watched:  05/17/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Emma Tammi
Selection:  Dug and K

I have no children.  Thus, I have mostly managed to live my life without having to know anything about the phenomenon that is Five Nights at Freddy's as video game, toys, or - now - a major motion picture.  So, yes, I have not competed for my hypothetical child's attention over watching some emotionally stunted dipshit game streamer hoot and woo at this game.  Nor did anyone in my house get excited about this movie coming out.

It also means I will not ever respond to a movie when asked my opinion by saying "my kids loved it!"  Look, love your kids, and use your own criteria for what is good or not - but my personal opinion is not filtered through the sugar-fueled viewing of entertainment by people whose brains are still gelling.  

Also - If you ever want to know why the accountants and actuaries now running Hollywood want for everything to be based on existing IP, look no further than this movie, which had a built in audience and managed to take in $291 million on what looked to be about a $20 million budget. 

At the blog, you'll see me imply many a movie is pretty bad, but normally I want to leave room for the idea that something was not to my taste, or I may have had challenges as a viewer - and certainly want to acknowledge that movies tend to have fans, even if I am not one. 

But proving that something being popular or lucrative is kind of meaningless when it comes to how *good* a movie is...  friends, straight up: Five Nights at Freddy's is an awful movie. A successful, money-making, widely seen movie that was, honestly, a steaming pile.*  

So, here we are.

Also:  As someone who enjoys covering movies with their origins in books, comic books, etc...  I do not judge this movie for being based on a videogame. Sure, I have no idea what is in the video game, and while it's origins in a game is relevant I'm not going to go become a gamer for the purposes of this review.  So, I'll just talk about what was on-screen to my virgin eyes and ears.  Because I do think it's a real thing to ask a movie to stand on its own, no matter how familiar the source material.

Before we get too far into this:  
  • the puppets are great.  I think Henson did the "animatronics", and they look phenomenal.  Well done.  
  • It was a delight to see Mary Stuart Masterson again.  She looks terrific and was good in her part.
  • The main kid actor was probably better than the role was written, and I salute her
  • Chuck E. Cheese's is still going, and was a popular destination through the 1990's.  I don't know why this movie was hung up on the 1980's.
  • No one working on this movie seemed to know how 1980's tech actually worked or how it failed, etc...  which... ask someone over 45.

Five Nights at Freddy's is Blumhouse's foray into figuring out how to grow their business - which is primarily horror and horror-adjacent movies - by appealing to audiences that can attend films that are PG-13.  So, yes, this is a horror movie for 10-year-olds.  Baby's first slasher.  And here our troubles begin.


Because this movie wants to do some really nasty horror-fantasy stuff but is absolutely neutered by the IP's intended audience - it just struggles continuously against itself.  The *ideas* in the movie are fairly Hard-R because, full stop, this is a movie about the victims of child abduction and murder.  We're getting delivered "John Wayne Gacy Babies".  And yet:  we want those young YouTube fans to pull on mommy and daddy's sleeves until they can see the movie.  

To be honest, I was absolutely stunned that this goofy-ass movie about clanking murder machines based on the Rock-a-Fire Explosion from Showbiz/ Chuck E. Cheese (something I am familiar with) and sold to middle-schoolers was going to be about Peeta from Hunger Games processing grief incredibly badly for 98% of the movie.  He's essentially a drug addict who thinks a recurring nightmare is going to help him solve the crime.  He is our hero.  Of a children's movie.

To those eleven-year-olds watching the movie, "Murdered kids" probably does mean just "a mean man murdered kids because he's mean", but to every single person over 16 watching, we know...  nope.  Murder is probably the least bad thing that happened after those kids were abducted.  And then that their corpses were desecrated and placed in the gears of the Rock-a-Fire Explosion is.... something else.  I mean, hats off.  That's pretty f'd up.

But with the audience in mind, I have no idea how a grown adult wrote this, and that many, many people signed off on all of it.  But several did, if IMDB is any indication.

The movie is wildly exposition heavy, but about all the wrong things.  We get into great detail about Garrett who went missing in Nebraska (but if you want to know were we are in the present, fuck you).  LadyCop blathers on an on, dropping small, miniscule bit of info, but doesn't bother to mention *anything* while she clearly also, inexplicably, wants to jump Our Hero's bones (and who doesn't like a drug-addled loner with priors and an eviction notice taped to his door?)  

Look, the movie is terribly written, directed and - if editing is where the story finally takes shape - edited.  There's no working logic, and not in a creepy, chilling way that leaves you rattled.  It's in "who made this?  Why were they so inept?" way.  Or a "that's not how shit works at all" type of way.  

It manifests in ways that characters have surprise motivations (the entire LadyCop storyline) that make no goddamn sense whatsoever.  In ways that people are murdered and no one seems to notice either that they're missing or that their bodies are rotting 20 feet away.  Or that the entire last five minutes of the movie (which will not fucking end) is *not* Our Hero, with a record of being violent and erratic and a drug problem, being thrown in jail after they find his Aunt dead in his living room, a pile of bodies at his place of work, and his sister muttering about ghosts and shit.

I have no idea when this movie occurs.  It's either now, in which case nothing adds up.  Or it's in the early 00's, and no one thinks they should mention this to the audience.  We do see Matt Lillard has a 1990's monitor on his desk, the TV's are all old CRTs, and Our Hero owns a TV/ DVD/ VCR combo, which suggests maybe post-2002 by the time someone who is dead broke would afford such a purchase - and flat screens weren't really common til maybe 2005.  We do see cell phones, but they do seem to be flip phones.  Anyway - stuff kids are totally going to get.  And it's nice they put in that detail, and then dumb AF they didn't just say "it's 2004" somehow to make sure timelines make sense and Matt Lillard isn't supposed to be, like, 75.

The character mascot-type costumes have a literal fucking bear-trap built in around the ribs, but there's no reason given why on earth this would be true.  We all know this is not how mascot suits are made.  Nor do people put on the animatronics like costumes anywhere in the world.  So WTF is this?  Because it's super important to the movie's climax.

Everything I thought I knew about this movie led me to believe it was going to be rogue robots with kitchen knives attacking people.  And they do go on two rampages, I guess.  Sort of.  But we also get a fun-filled set of scenes where no one is freaked the fuck out by the haunted robots and they have a Teddy Bear Picnic.  

The robots make no sense.  The movie doesn't want to get into either how they're actually haunted, how Matthew Lillard shoved the kid's corpses in there, what he thinks he's doing, how he can control the kid ghosts, etc...  Or how a half-ton of metal is sneaking up on anyone.  Like I say, there's no explanation for anything that matters.  And this is literally the A-plot of the movie.

LadyCop is treated as one of our Heroic Trio even though she has spent her entire life seemingly aware of her father's murder-hobby?  Like, jumping Jesus on a pogo stick.  What was anyone working on this movie thinking?  Why is she treated like she's okie-dokie by the movie?  Because she's blonde and conventionally attractive?  Someone help me out here.  In some ways, this makes her worse than the murderous nutjob chasing his bliss.  She's a goddamn cop who used her position to cover up and assist in his crimes.

I did not see the possessed robot angle coming, but it would have been nice if they'd given the kids names or personalities.  Which they absolutely do not.  Amazing to see a movie entirely about dead kids in robots and not give two fucks about who they are, and how it's going.  But not once does the movie ask you to care.  I think drawing interest in what happened to the kids would draw too much attention to, you know, horrors that would be hard to handle with a PG-13 Rating.    So, instead, we just have a narratively dead core of the movie.    

The greatest crime is that we spend the first 30-45 minutes finding out the incredibly simple fact that Our Hero's brother, Garrett, was kidnapped in front of Our Hero when they were very small children. Because our director is a first-time director of sorts, she has decided we need to see this scene over and over and over with no new information.  You will be sick of it immediately.  

I'll get to tone in a minute.

The entire plot of the film, and an incredible amount of screentime is spent at this one picnic area in what I am pretty sure is literally the woods they used for Miller's Crossing, is spent in Our Hero's dreamscape watching this scene play out with no robots whatsoever. And it's all about how Garrett disappeared, and we need to get closure on Garrett.  This movie is at least 65% about this kid.  

Until it's not.  

And in the last fifteen minutes of the movie, no one mentions Garrett or gives two shits about him.  You glimpse him briefly, I think?  But there's no resolution here.  He's maybe just there, haunting an air hockey machine or some shit.  I don't know.  And neither does the movie.  Our Hero should have anything BUT closure.  Or should be beating Matthew Lillard to death until he confesses what he did.  But he just says "close enough to pretty hurt.  Let's roll."

I've just never seen a movie just utterly fart away a major plot point like that.  It'd be like if you watched all of Star Wars and at the end you expected Luke to bust out the force to save the day, but he forgets it, turns on his targeting computer, and our denouement was Luke thanking the technicians and R2, and we never bring up Obi-Wan or The Force again.  

I know this is a movie for kids, but, man, you can do the basics of writing a non-shitty movie where things add up.  You are allowed to do the absolute basic parts of your job when making movies for kids.  I know kids are dumb and will watch anything, not caring about the past, present or future. And this movie made 290 million dollars, so you can tell me to fuck off.  But have some pride.

So, yeah, this *could* have been a fun, feisty movie that leaned into what it is - a movie about the animatronics at a beloved pizza joint rising up and murdering people.  Or at least causing chaos.  It could have been colorful and fun chaos as a wacky group of characters try to stay ahead of the creepiness.  Ie:  this could have been fun and funny.  

Instead, it went for the same "I need Zoloft" tone that folks seem hooked on these days.  This could have been Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and it chose to be The Vanishing.  Like... why?  It's being given the 1972 Miami Dolphins and deciding you're going to have them perform Twelve Angry Men instead of having them play football.  

And speaking of Twelve Angry Men, the movie is basically twelve guys in a small, stuffy room - and yet, they manage to find interesting shots and give the movie a distinct feel and look.  FNAF seems like they don't know what to do with the spaces they have, and they repeat the same camera angles seemingly over and over, and when it gets to be too much, they use a Michael Bay 180 degree turn around the leads.  I don't know how this movie also managed to be a bit visually confusing, while also being so bland looking when sets, puppets, etc... all seemed fine.

There's a sequel in the works as we speak.

If you want to know that the folks screaming at librarians and your PTA are completely full of shit:  I don't think we need to worry about kids stumbling across books that acknowledge not everyone is heterosexual, but I do think it's fucked up I heard not a word about the video game or this movie from those same people.  This is a movie about a child-molester and his accomplice daughter apparently conjuring demonic forces and making ghost children do their bidding in the after life.  This is kind of "Pizzagate, Lovecraft's Version".  And yet...  not a peep.   

Look, I don't actually give a shit what you want to show your kids, but if you did have a conversation with them about this movie, I would hope it would be about how this movie sucks as a narrative and that Matthew Lillard is a good actor, but needs better material.

*Sure, in 15-20 years, it will get Space Jam Fallacied into a classic by people who were 12 when they saw it, and desperately want to believe that it's good.  But it won't be.  It's Space Jam.  

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