Review of Blumhouse Productions’s Five Nights at Freddy’s
Indie game developer Scott Cawthon was in a cyclical rut. He couldn’t seem to create a connection with audiences through his games which mostly took inspiration from religious allegories and Biblical stories.
He decided to shift gears after scathing criticism towards his game Chipper & Sons Lumber Co. emerged online noting the uncanny creepiness of the woodland game’s beaver protagonist. In a 2014 interview with Christian gaming blog GeeksUnderGrace, he said that he had planned for his next game to be “something a lot scarier than that.”
On August 8, 2014, the gaming community was forever changed with the release of the first Five Nights at Freddy’s game. The game’s story and mechanics were extremely simple: you play as a security guard tasked with guarding a Chuck E. Cheese-like pizzeria restaurant. The catch? The restaurant’s animatronic characters are hunting you down.
The appeal of the game came largely from the creepy visuals and heart-racing jumpscares as well as popular gaming YouTubers like Markiplier and PewDiePie playing the game and delivering their trademarked over-the-top reactions to the scares.
The unsettling atmosphere, easy controls, and frightening jump scares were enough to initially entice players but some started to notice subtle details and strange patterns threaded throughout the gameplay.
Most notably, a set of newspaper clippings that could be seen on the walls while looking through the security cameras told a disturbing tale of 5 children who went missing inside the restaurant and were never found, causing the pizzeria to be closed down indefinitely.
Another prominent YouTuber Matthew Patrick (aka MatPat) from The Game Theorists was quick to put the pieces together and soon spawned a now 95-video playlist containing theories about the game’s convoluted lore.
With every game release from the FNaF franchise, new theories and discoveries emerged. Now that fans have 13 games including four spinoffs, and 28 books to go off of, the complexity of this horrifying story has inspired never-ending speculation and built a gargantuan community around what started out as one man’s desire to create something memorable.
Memorable would be a gross understatement of the impact FNaF has had on gamers, artists, and basically anyone submerged in fandom culture. In addition to internet-generated material surrounding the franchise, official merchandise including clothing, toys, accessories and more has generated a substantial amount of revenue for pop culture outlets like Hot Topic and FYE.
Credit: Five Nights at Freddy’s, Universal Pictures
In this sensational craze, reaching its heights in the late 2010s, many were wondering when the time would come for FNaF to receive a film adaptation. Cawthon would also tread lightly when consulting with studios in order to ensure that his beloved series was in the right hands.
Just a year after the game’s initial release, it was announced that Warner Bros. would be distributing a FNaF film, however, a finalized script could not be settled on and the project was scrapped.
Soon the potential for a FNaF film arrived at the popular horror-centric studio Blumhouse Productions, but difficulties creating the right script still arose, mainly due to Cawthon’s demands and emphasis on crafting a film that did the original games justice.
Cawthon even accepts the responsibility of being one of the key reasons why a FNaF movie hadn’t been made sooner. He told a game forum via Variety, “I take responsibility for this delay; it’s my fault. I’m determined to find the right story. I’m sticking to what I’ve always said, either the right movie gets made or no movie gets made.”
Finally, with the assistance of Blumhouse, the direction of Emma Tammi, and Cawthon himself aiding in the writing of the script, the FNaF movie was set into motion, offering promise to longtime fans of the games who had dreamed of seeing this gruesome story play out on screen.
The film’s casting also added to the excitement. The Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson was set to play security guard Mike Schmidt and fan-favorite horror actor Matthew Lillard took on the iconic role of William Afton, the deranged killer that the entire franchise revolves around.
The Jim Henson Creature Shop was enlisted to create the signature animatronics and by the time the film’s teaser dropped, revealing the murderous animals, fans were spellbound by how real, lively, and true to the game’s style the characters looked.
The film was released just three days before Halloween of 2023, and has already broken significant box office records, including setting the record as the highest-grossing horror movie of 2023, the highest-grossing female-directed horror movie of all time, and the second highest-grossing video-game movie of this year only behind The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
Though the film performed astonishingly well financially, it’s had trouble connecting with viewers outside of the fanbase. Five Nights at Freddy’s certainly seemed to stay true to its source material in regard to its confusing story and reliance on jumpscares rather than extensive violence or gore which has divided fans and critics.
What has been appreciated particularly about the film is the evident dedication and effort throughout that specifically caters to the diehard fans of the games who have actively engaged with the community since the first game’s release almost a decade ago.
Cawthon has specifically addressed the fans as the target audience despite also wanting to appeal to a wider audience. Cawthon states heartwarmingly in his production notes, “It’s thanks to the fans that I’m here doing this at all, and that the movie got made in the first place, so making it for them was everyone’s first priority.”
The film’s story which is at the forefront of its most glaring backlash has been garnered by critics as faulty and lackluster. Critic Rebecca Johnson of Film Focus Online said that the “…story is an overstuffed mess that tries to pack in too much lore at once.”
Other critics are disappointed by the film being marketed as a bone-chilling horror movie simply not being all that scary. Fans have also addressed that the creepiness is tuned down in the film, pointing to one particular scene towards the film’s midpoint that seemed childish and halted the overarching story.
FNaF being a game rooted in jumpscares, there are plenty of instances that will make you squirm in your seat but if you’re looking for brutal kills and graphic depictions of terror, you should probably consider catching a screening of Saw X instead.
In between moments where your heartbeat might heighten, there are a multitude of easter eggs and references scattered throughout the film including some YouTuber cameos that will have fans squealing. Seeing the pizzeria and the animatronics fully actualized is also particularly awe-inducing to those who spent hours immersed in this franchise’s world.
The animatronics really are showstopping in both their size, expression, and mobility. There are plenty of humorous and suspenseful moments all led by the practical puppets. Sure, the moments meant to be scary may leave a little to be desired but that’s to be expected when a decent-sized portion of the FNaF fanbase is younger.
Perhaps that is the true essence and magic of the FNaF movie, it’s not just to be enjoyed by fans who grew up playing the games in the eerie darkness of their basements and watching countless theory videos to guide them in their own predictions about the lore.
The FNaF movie is also welcoming of the new fans who are just discovering the convoluted yet captivating phenomena. At its core, FNaF tells a story about family and the things in our childhoods that we can’t forget because they’ve gripped us with wonder, and terror.
As expected, the film is already sparking ideas for a sequel. Matthew Lillard has announced that he’s been signed to a three-film deal and director Emma Tammi has expressed wanting to make more films. She said in an interview with Variety, “We’re definitely excited to keep making more movies in this world, should we be lucky enough to do that.”
With the 10-year anniversary of the first game happening next year, it’s amazing to think that it could be celebrated by the announcement of another FNaF film in the works, and one that’ll likely detail the world of the second game.
If the next film does fixate on Five Nights at Freddy’s 2, and critics were upset by the first film’s cramped story, they ought to stay away because as true FNaF fans know, the lore only gets crazier and more wickedly enticing from there.