Friday 27 October 2023

Five Nights at Freddy's (Movie Review)

2023 has been a great year for video game adaptations. We've had the phenomenal The Last of Us on HBO Max, which was not only faithful to its source material but also managed to translate flawlessly into a serialized TV format. Then of course we also got The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a film that was an instant hit with fans, going on to gross more than a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. And now it seems that it is time for fans of Five Nights at Freddy's to get in on the action as the familiar band of killer animatronics makes the jump onto the big and small screen. But does the film capture that sense of dread the games are known for or does it instead bring back the dreaded video game movie curse?

The film centers upon Mike Schmidt, a troubled young man who lands a job as a nighttime security guard at an abandoned family entertainment center called Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. Unable to find a babysitter for his younger sister one night, he decides to bring her along with him to spend the night there. But it doesn't take long into his shifts before he realizes that its empty rooms and hallways are haunted after midnight by its eponymous animatronic mascot, along with three others just like it. Now he must do whatever he can to survive long enough to cash his paycheck.

The Five Nights at Freddy's video games are renowned not only for their effective jump scares but for their lore-filled stories as well. And all that is presented to the player in a stripped-down presentation with very minimal setup or exposition. All you need to know is that you are a night guard at a defunct pizzeria who needs to fend off a group of killer animatronics in order to survive five nights as the title suggested. And while I've never actually played any of the games myself, I've still, like many others, watched enough Let's Plays on YouTube to understand what the noise is about.

So heading into this long-awaited movie adaptation, I expected to see the same barebones approach to horror but with perhaps some more character development and buildup to better fill out the film's overall runtime. But in its quest to give our main characters some backstory, the movie gets bogged down in the kind of melodrama that makes its leads come across as dull and uncharismatic. It didn't exactly help that a lot of its dialogue felt forced and unnatural, serving largely to telegraph character intentions or foreshadow future events.

All that can be forgiven of course, if the movie was at least self-aware enough to lean into its inherent cheesiness. This was in fact what had helped elevate Willy's Wonderland, another recent movie that was inspired by the Five Nights at Freddy's video games. But here we instead get a self-serious tone that often felt at odds with the ridiculousness of its onscreen action. And without the natural charms and star power of an actor like Nicolas Cage to help bridge that gap, it becomes increasingly difficult to care about any of it.

This was never a problem in the video games mind you, mainly because the main character was there solely to serve as a surrogate for the player. This was why they worked so well in Let's Plays videos, as it allowed the player's reactions to the horrors it throws at them to come across to viewers in their purest form. And the film is sadly devoid of all the personality that the likes of PewDiePie and CoryxKenshin brought to those Let's Plays.

This is not to say that the movie is without some fun moments. It was nice seeing Cory make a cameo as a taxi driver, complete with jump scares that were reminiscent of his own Let's Plays of the game. It is just that the film takes too long before anything remotely interesting happens. And even when the killings begin, they are confined by the limitations of its low-budget production and a PG-13 rating.

Five Nights at Freddy's is about as dull as a video game adaptation can get without outright putting viewers to sleep. It completely squanders a simple yet interesting premise by sticking too closely to horror film conventions. And while it does faithfully recreate the various locations from the video games, as well as the animatronics that inhabit them, it still fails to convey their sense of dread or impending doom, nor does it successfully tap into the rich lore that continues to spark discourse among fans, at least not in any meaningful way.

Friday 20 October 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon (Movie Review)

As we enter into awards season, one can expect a good helping of Oscar-bait movies to find their way into cinemas. So while we've already had films like Oppenheimer and Air throwing their hats into the ring, most of the expected heavy hitters are only now starting to reveal themselves. And they don't really get much heavier than Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese's $200 million epic drama. But does the film put all that money to good use or is it simply overlong and overbudgeted?

Based on the book of the same name, the film tells the story of the true-life events that came to be known as the Osage murders. It features an acting ensemble that includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. The former plays a man returning home from the war to help his uncle in the Osage Nation, a reserve largely owned and controlled by wealthy Native Americans. But after he marries into one such family at the behest of his uncle, he is soon pushed to go to any lengths to help secure the family inheritance.

The first I'd heard of Killers of the Flower Moon was back when it was still being shopped around by Martin Scorsese. It immediately drew attention due to its $200 million price tag, an amount that was eventually raised when distribution rights were picked up by Apple TV+. But rather than relegate the film to their streaming platform, the company has chosen to give it a full theatrical release. This would no doubt go a long way in helping it recoup some of that cost as well as boosting its prospects for consideration at the various film awards.

As for whether or not any of that money is on display during the movie itself, I'd say that it certainly feels just as epic and sprawling as it had set out to be. The film is beautifully shot as one would expect from a director of the caliber of Martin Scorsese. But unlike his previous film, The Irishman, which had made extensive use of CGI to de-age its main actors, this one has a harder time justifying its budget, especially in the wake of a film like The Creator which was several times more ambitious and cost half as much to make.

This means that most of its production cost must have gone towards salaries for its stellar acting ensemble. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro give what could be considered career-best performances but it was actually Lily Gladstone that serves as the film's emotional core. Her performance was restrained and yet powerful, evoking all the pain and suffering her character was made to go through. So I'll definitely be expecting to hear her name get called out among the nominees at next year's Oscars, along with the two other headliners. The fact that both Jesse Plemons and Brendan Fraser don't even make an appearance until well into the movie's runtime just shows just how stacked the cast is.

Speaking of runtime, you do start to feel the film's overall length at nearly three and a half hours, especially during the second act when things began to drag a bit. But it is a testament to the tightly-written script that I was kept engaged for most of the movie regardless. It did sort of just fizzle out at the end though, right where one would expect a more pronounced climax and resolution, but I'll put that down to it being beholden to presenting the facts as close to the way they had happened in real life as it could, as opposed to something more cinematic or sensational.

And that is another area where I feel the movie might alienate more casual viewers, in the way that it presents some of its facts with very little context, almost as though it expects that the viewer is already well versed in its subject matter. It also bears mentioning that the film might be a little too hard to stomach for some due to the deplorable nature of the killings alluded to by its title, as it never shies away from depicting each one in cold and graphic ways.

Killers of the Flower Moon is as rewarding as it is challenging to watch. It forgoes traditional payoffs in favor of an examination of the evils people are capable of in their greedy pursuits. The fact that it is still able to pause long enough to allow the viewer to appreciate moments of beauty amidst all of its horrors helps keep it grounded and well out of the realm of being considered exploitative. But its length and dire subject matter might sadly keep it out of many people's comfort zones.