An instant candidate for a worst film of the year list, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” from Universal and Blumhouse is based on a 2014 video-game by Scott Cawthon. Directed by Emma Tammi (“The Wind”) and written by Tammi, Cawthon and Seth Cuddeback (“Mateo”), the film is at its best when it merely makes no sense. Meet Mike (Josh Hutcherson of those godforsaken original “Hunger Games” films). When Mike was a boy he was charged by his mother with keeping an eye on his little brother Garrett (Lucas Grant), who was taken by a faceless man in a car and never seen again.
Cut to sleep-deprived adult Mike (Hutcherson). He lives with his much younger sister Abby (“Stranger Things”-ready Piper Rubio), who obsessively draws pictures of her with Mike and some cartoon animals. Almost unemployable, Mike accepts a job offered by a weirdly menacing agent (Matthew Lillard) at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, an abandoned 1980’s-era pizzeria/arcade.
Like in the game, Mike’s job is to sit before an array of security camera screens at night and make sure no shenanigans occur. Mike has a habit of taking sleeping pills in order to induce a reoccurring dream in which he experiences the moment Garrett was taken while he, Garrett and his parents were on a camping trip. Ergo, Mike is the sleeping security guard. He relives the moment Garrett was taken over and over. If this sounds like the plot of a bad Stephen King story, it is. I would hazard a guess that King is the favorite writer of the creators of this film’s plot. But they in no way share King’s power to mine our collective dreams for horror gold.
The plot will further involve “ghost kids” who appear to Mike in his dreams, animatronic, giant robotic and cartoonish animals – a bear, a rabbit, a duck, a fox and more – that lurk at Fazbear’s and can track down and kill humans in hideous ways for a PG-13 movie and a strange police officer named Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail, “Once Upon a Time”), who appears to be the only police officer in town. We are reminded repeatedly that Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza was huge in the 1980s, and in some scenes the robotic animals can be seen performing The Romantics’ 1983 hit “Talking in Your Sleep” (Get it?). Mike takes Abby to work (?). She befriends the strange creatures in the shadows. How? Why? “Five Nights at Freddy’s” is only for the most gullible viewers. The rest will find their eyelids impossibly hard to hold up.
In an opening scene, a security guard at Freddy’s runs through a maze of hallways before being strapped to a chair and get his face chewed off (off camera). Someone else gets a head bitten off. One of the animatronic creatures is just a skull-like head. Somehow, this thing gets from place to place and flies through the air without appendages or explanation. Mike and Abby’s evil Aunt Jane (a scenery-chewing Mary Stuart Masterson, speaking of the ’80s) appears in a few badly-staged scenes to demand custody of Abby. If she had a mustache, she’d twirl its ends. Hutcherson does a lot of running in the film and not a lot of acting. But he is hardly to blame. The makers of “Five Nights at Freddy’s” appear to forget that you need a screenplay to make a movie, not just a collection of things that happen. The film wants awfully to be a variation on a theme of King’s “It.” It ain’t.
(“Five Nights at Freddy’s” contains gruesome imagery, violence and endangered children)
“Five Nights at Freddy’s”
Rated PG-13. At the AMC Boston Common, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters. Grade: D