Brisk Running Time and Yet It Still Feels like “Five Nights at Freddy’s”

Plan to redeem your game tokens and exchange your skee-ball tickets for weak jump scares and inert performances as the resident animatronic mascot bear and his bandmates at an abandoned fictional family entertainment emporium are prone to murder in Emma Tammi’s horror film Five Nights at Freddy’s (D+). As if the high concept based on cult hit video game lore weren’t enough to fill the film’s running time, the night security guard (Josh Hutcherson), who sometimes brings little sister (Piper Rubio) to work, also uses dream therapy in an attempt to recall the identity of the man who kidnapped his younger brother years ago (hint to the mystery arrives in the form of there being fewer than a half dozen men in the cast). The morose story about multi-generational trauma hardly seems the stuff of an action film aimed at teenagers, but the plot doesn’t seem to be the main attraction here. Few in the ensemble seem adequately phased by the sinister supernatural activities afoot as minor themes about hero complexes and child custody seep into the fright flick’s consciousness. Most notable in the mayhem is the sturdy practical effects work of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to craft the creepy-cute denizens of the plundered pizza palace, but even these vivacious vigilantes aren’t given much to do. Mr. Cupcake, a yeasty beast and patron saint of bygone birthdays, is a particularly spry killer. The plot is rather routine with a PG-13 rating likely to reward starter sets of horror movie fans. Hutcherson makes little impression as the underwritten protagonist, and Tammi never fully leverages the macabre humor of the setting nor the potential terror embodied in the mechanical animals to get much under the surface. For all the imaginative possibilities, the end result of the movie’s prolonged gestation period is a work largely devoid of scares or personality, a gateway horror movie that opens the door to a franchise with potentially more creative possibilities.

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