Video game adaptations have been notoriously known for receiving extremely bad reviews over the years, but Five Nights at Freddy's was criticized particularly harshly to the point where it is the worst-reviewed video game movie since 2016's Assassin's Creed.
As of writing, FNAF has a Rotten Tomatoes critic score of 28%, meaning that of 148 reviews, only that percentage of certified critics gave it a positive rating. Fans seem to be enjoying the film much more, however, seeing as how its audience score on the review platform currently sits at 89%.
So why did critics not like FNAF?
Too Many Jumpscares Instead of Compelling Horror
At one point, jumpscares were considered to be a staple in every horror movie. But now, viewers seem more interested in the psychological and heart-pounding aspects of the genre.
For example, the original Halloween film that came out in 1978 had fans hiding behind their blankets when Michael Myers slowly inched toward his victims. Instead of the masked killer just standing behind every single corner and jumping out as a loud musical cue hit to make the viewer jump out of their chair, that film would often put Michael in full view and let the audience actually see him, making his presence that much scarier.
FNAF, on the other hand, didn't utilize this method of filmmaking, and many critics stated that it could have been more interesting if it had used the empty pizzeria that it was set in.
Instead of using the lights, sounds, and animatronics around the pizzeria to heighten the tension throughout the movie, many reviews said that it turned out to just be a dark, boring setting for a horror movie like FNAF.
Many thought that the movie could have also benefited if it explored the waters of body horror a bit more, although due to its PG-13 rating, it could have only gone so far.
It is also important to note that there was a shockingly low number of kills in Five Nights at Freddy's, particularly on-screen. Some criticisms detailed that more kills from the animatronics would have resulted in more tense and spine-chilling scenes than what was included in the final cut.
An Unbalance Between Comedy & Horror
A horror movie with a basic premise about murderous animatronics at an abandoned pizzeria sets the expectation that FNAF is on the more comedic side of the genre. While that is true in some senses, the film also tried to bring in extremely heavy themes and story beats that didn't blend well with the comedy in critics' eyes.
Many critics agreed that FNAF at its core was about wacky animatronics that had come to life and that the film ultimately took itself too seriously by focusing largely on a story about Mike's kidnapped brother and the fact that he could be losing custody of his sister.
Critics also detailed that since the dramatic side of the movie wasn't that interesting anyway, putting so much focus on it just made for an unbalanced experience, and that it would have worked better if it had just explored the dark humor and wackiness that it set up in its marketing.
The Long Runtime
Another major criticism of Five Nights at Freddy's is that it is simply too long, especially for the story that the film is trying to tell.
The runtime of FNAF is 109 minutes, or 1 hour and 49 minutes, and a lot of reviews state that there is not enough interesting material in the script for the movie to be that long. This led to the final cut containing dragged-out sequences and some scenes feeling as though they were repeats of previous ones.
If some scenes and subplots had been cut and the runtime was instead somewhere around 90 minutes, or maybe even a bit shorter, critics may have been kinder to the film.
In the eyes of critics, a shorter runtime for FNAF could have also made it feel a little more exciting and better-paced, which would have ultimately been a positive instead of a negative.
The Story is Too Convoluted & Doesn't Make Sense
For Five Nights at Freddy's to be such a simple concept, many critics pointed out that there is an unnecessarily large number of subplots that the film tries to explore, including Mike's PTSD about his brother, the Aunt Jane plotline, the double-crossing babysitter, and Vanessa.
All these plotlines crammed into the FNAF story ended up making critics feel as though the experience was too crowded, and on top of there being so many, some didn't make any sense.
For example, the Aunt Jane plotline was fairly major throughout the first half, but it ultimately went nowhere. And after one point in the film, she was never mentioned again.
Many critics also detailed that the Vanessa storyline didn't make any sense seeing as how she was tied into the main characters (which was one major change that they made to her character from the games). It also didn't help that just a few minutes after taking a definitive stance against helping one of the main characters near the end of the movie, she quickly changed her mind and went from one extreme to the other.
What Was Good About FNAF?
While FNAF was criticized pretty heavily, there were some positive elements that viewers thought the film included.
In particular, the designs of the animatronics were praised for how similar they were to what was seen in the games the movie was based on.
A lot of fans of the games also appreciated how many callbacks/references there were in the film to the game franchise, which made playing the games and having the knowledge of the lore that much more rewarding when seeing those references and Easter eggs.
Along with these elements, Matthew Lillard's performance was praised by many as being some of his best work, even though some elements of his character were changed from the games.
The charisma and believability that Lillard brought to the role made his character that much more unforgettable, and proved in the eyes of fans and critics alike that the actor is still able to showcase what made moviegoers fall in love with him in films such as Scream, Scooby-Doo, and SLC Punk.
Five Nights at Freddy's is currently playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock.