If you were living under a rock (or just didn’t care), Five Nights At Freddy’s is a video game franchise that saw a brief period of incandescent popularity around 2015-2016. Players assume the role of a night-shift security guard at a Chuck E. Cheese-style kids’ restaurant and play centre, where the friendly animatronic creatures come to murderous life by night. It's played by switching between security camera feeds, monitoring the movements of the robots, and hiding or deploying countermeasures to avoid them, and like many indie games, it manages to create a lot of atmosphere with very little.
The movie rights to Freddy's were snapped up by Blumhouse last March, after sitting at New Line for a couple of years with Monster House and Poltergeist (2015) director Gil Kenan attached. And now it seems veteran workman Chris Columbus has signed on to write, direct, and produce Blumhouse’s version of the movie.
Columbus is surely most closely associated with the first two films in both the Home Alone and Harry Potter franchises (not to mention his best movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, don’t @ me), but much of his directorial output tends to get criticised for being somewhat milquetoast. Pixels? Rent? Bicentennial Man (OK, I have some affection for that movie)? Hardly the kind of guy you’d hire to adapt a video game franchise based entirely around jump scares, but definitely the kind of guy you hire to make Family Movie Money. On the other hand, Columbus wrote the screenplay for Gremlins, so there’s entirely a possibility he could deliver another family-horror classic. One can even see Home Alone’s penchant for weird, gleeful cruelty working well within the Freddy’s franchise, for example.
Blumhouse is clearly stretching its wings with the project, continuing the trajectory into mainstream legitimacy it began with Get Out by making a film aimed at all ages. But while there’s little doubt Five Nights could generate a solid ninety minutes of family-friendly scares, I wonder whether the franchise is past its window of exploitation.
Like Angry Birds, whose film adaptation came out a couple years after the heady days of Peak Angry Bird, it’s entirely possible fans are content with how much Five Nights they’ve consumed. After all, developer Scott Cawthon put out seven titles in three years based on the IP. Freddy's more or less launched a cottage industry of similarly-themed horror games and YouTube reaction videos, but the genre has died down as the gaming fad of the moment, replaced by titles like Overwatch and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Is it still a thing? What are the kids into these days?
At any rate, I'm curious to see how Columbus and Blumhouse approach the project. Worse-looking adaptations have turned expectations around, certainly. But boy, does that Pixels spectre loom large.