'Five Nights'' intriguing premise undermined by simply terrible storytelling

“Five Nights at Freddy's” — ★

Just in time to ruin Halloween weekend for true horror film afficionados, Emma Tammi's “Five Nights at Freddy's” gives us one of the sloppiest, most embarrassingly inept nonthrillers in recent memory.

Bereft of suspense, relatable characters, clever dialogue, judicious editing, internal/external logic and basic respect for audience intelligence, this sloggy borefest (it feels more like “Fifty Nights at Freddy's”) slowly murders its intriguing dreams-are-real premise with laughable badness.

How bad? “Five Nights” comes on as a strong contender to be named the worst feature film based on a popular video game series (here, Scott Cawthon's creation of the same title). The movie especially disappoints in the wasted use of well-crafted haunted animatronic figures created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

Josh Hutcherson has evolved into a more nuanced, less self-conscious actor than in his “Hunger Games” performances. Here, he delivers a relatively centered portrait of Mike, a disturbed young man suffering from recurring nightmares about the time somebody snatched his little brother Garrett (Lucas Grant) during a family outing when Mike was 12. He wants nothing more than to find the man who did it.

Right away, something doesn't seem right. He never mentions wanting to actually find Garrett. Why not? Any normal brother would.

It soon becomes apparent that Mike is the only developed character in this movie. All others struggle to hang on to the one dimension they're allowed by screenwriters Tammi, Cawthon and Seth Cuddeback.

Such as Mike's 10-year-old sister Abby (Piper Rubio), who talks to imaginary friends and draws strange pictures of weird upright animals. Mike has custody of Abby, much to the annoyance of their Aunt Jane (Mary Stuart Masterson), who would love to have Abby become her ward.

To make ends meet, Mike takes the advice of his career counselor (Matthew Lillard) and becomes the solitary security guard at an old, abandoned 1980s video game restaurant called Freddy Fazbear's. (Think of it as Chuck E. Cheese meets “Saw.”)

We know the place harbors diabolical animatronic killers because “Five Nights” opens with screaming Mike about to get his face Ginsued to pieces by the whirring blades on an advancing robotic animal with glowing eyes.

Amazingly, we don't really care that much about Mike or anyone else in this dulled, hard-to-swallow world. Our disbelief simply can't be suspended.

Even the attractive cop who mysteriously shows up and seems to know all about Freddy's dark history feels forced and fake.

Vanessa Shelly (Elizabeth Lail) is one of those movie police officers whose only duty consists of hanging out with the main character at all hours so she can be a sounding board for his thoughts and fears.

Meanwhile, Mike continues to dream about the abduction, each time chasing the spirits of little boys in hopes they might reveal who kidnapped Garrett.

“Five Nights” may have an intriguing premise, but it's undermined by simply terrible storytelling with a dissatisfying head-scratcher of a finale.

Tammi, whose first feature — a supernatural western horror tale called “The Wind” — came out in 2018, has a tough time deciding on the proper tone for “Five Nights,” which runs the gamut from staid drama to jokey comedy. Everything but actual horrifying terror.

That might be because Cawthon's original graphic source material demands to be a full-blooded R-rated movie, but feels neutered by a more market-friendly PG-13 rating, gearing it to less-discriminating horror fans.

Then again, this might just be bad enough to merit a guest slot on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

• • •

Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Lail, Piper Rubio, Mary Stuart Masterson, Matthew Lillard

Directed by: Emma Tammi

Other: A Universal Pictures theatrical release. Rated PG-13 for language and violence. 114 minutes

Mike (Josh Hutcherson) tries to protect his 10-year-old sister Abby (Piper Rubio), who talks to imaginary friends and draws strange pictures of weird upright animals, in "Five Nights at Freddy's." Courtesy of Universal Pictures
In "Five Nights at Freddy's," an old abandoned 1980s video game restaurant called Freddy Fazbear's is the site of strange events involving killer animatronic musicians. Courtesy of Universal Pictures
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