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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

For and by the fans: ‘Five Nights At Freddy’s’ breaks records

Rachel Choi

This article contains spoilers.

Bolstered by nostalgia and fan-driven fervor, “Five Nights At Freddy’s” released Oct. 26 with the biggest opening weekend for a horror film directed by a woman—Emma Tammi—grossing an impressive $80 million domestically and $52.6 million internationally. Despite deviating from the original game’s lore, the film managed to create something for newcomers and fans alike, combining decent scares and surprising laugh-out-loud moments.

I was a FNAF lover as a child and was almost worryingly excited about this movie. With this perspective, FNAF lived up to exactly what I had hoped it would be: a love letter to the fans who had supported Scott Cawthon, creator of the franchise, back when it was a small, unknown game. Though the story deviated significantly from the game, like changing up character backstories, names, or general timeline of events, it wasn’t enough to dissatisfy fans. It instead worked to strengthen the overall coherence of the film’s own, original story. 

The film follows Mike Schmidt (Josh Hutcherson), a troubled man who can’t hold down a job due to his past trauma, and his younger sister Abby (Piper Rubio), who outwardly seems detached but considers Mike her whole world. Mike, faced with the possibility of losing custody over Abby, takes on a job with poor pay and high turnover rates in a last-ditch effort: a security night shift at an abandoned Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. 

It’s there that Mike meets the mascots of the horror franchise: Freddy, Bonnie, Chica (and her cupcake), and Foxy. Seeing them on the big screen was like being taken back in time to my 5th-grade FNAF frenzy: I was ecstatic and giddy—and that feeling was evidently shared by the audience as well. The whole room, mostly filled with fellow college-aged students or parents with their younger children, was lit up with animated reactions, and I could see the light reflecting off of cheeky grins and gasps of delight. 

The animatronics are surprisingly all completely real, and it’s this practicality concerning props and design that shines throughout the film. The set design is grounded and immersive, with small details filling the screen with delightful easter eggs for fans and fascinating tidbits for newcomers. The animatronics are just as real and tangible as they feel in the game.

It’s this palpability of the film that manages to set an eerie atmosphere as the story progresses. During his shifts, strange occurrences continue to plague Mike. His ritualistic method of lucid dreaming about the exact day his deceased younger brother, Garrett, went missing years ago is constantly interrupted by the presence of five children he does not recognize. The animatronics move on their own. The speakers randomly blare distorted voices of laughing children. Everything points to an unspoken truth about the abandoned restaurant—and the arrival of police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail) confirms this.

Vanessa’s appearance seemed to be a surprise to most, as she did not exist in the games during this early timeframe of the lore. I saw head tilts, and whispers—not negative, but surely confused. However, the confusion soon gave way to smooth acceptance as her entrance marked the beginning of puzzle pieces falling into place. 

Vanessa tells Mike of the pizzeria’s history: a series of murders had happened in the ‘80s—referred to as the “Missing Children Incident,” in which the theater gasped happily again—and Abby, after tagging along to Mike’s shift, confirms this by telling him of her new friends possessing the animatronics. Later, it’s revealed that the missing children’s bodies had been stuffed into the animatronics themselves, as the animatronics had frequently malfunctioning, but still operational, springtrap mechanics that allowed employees to wear them like suits.

The concept is bizarre, but this is the core explanation and the heart of the games’ mechanics of murderous animatronics—and that’s what made them so whimsically fun. Yet for those who might have found it hard to buy into, the high-caliber acting and convincing sound design aids in the immersion. These elements, accompanying expository dialogue, build up the rapport with audiences and the movie needs to fully dive into this fantastical setting. 

This setting itself is different from that of the games from the get-go. Abby is an entirely new character, and Mike is no longer the titular but mysterious Michael Afton, older brother of Evan—William’s son who was killed by an animatronic after an incident dubbed “the bite of ‘83” due to Mike’s unintentional actions. Taking Evan’s place instead is Garrett, who is later revealed to have also been a victim of the film Afton, who was the killer behind the Missing Children Incident. 

Another big difference comes from Vanessa, based on a preexisting game antagonist with the same name. The film tweaks her character significantly by making Vanessa the daughter of William, someone who had most likely helped him with the murder of the children, albeit under duress. 

The changes aren’t entirely unwelcome, though they may annoy loyal fans: the complex layering of Vanessa’s motives for sticking around Mike transforms her from a one-dimensional, stereotypical, worried officer into a tragic, morally gray individual who is both perpetrator and victim. Mike’s deteriorated mental health and subsequent determination to change his life is bolstered by the presence of Abby and grounds this previously vague character. Abby’s innocence as a child aids in the mediation between the dead and the living; it’s her childish worldview that makes it possible for the animatronics, at heart children, to realize William’s manipulation and cause his downfall.

While FNAF was an entertaining and intriguing watch, there is still valid criticism from both critics and general audiences alike that I agree with. The writing is rather mediocre at times, and there are instances of jarring shifts in tone. The pacing towards the end of the film was off-kilter, as much of the resolution seemed rushed after a steady climb toward the climax. William’s character was critically underdeveloped, as even his death, integral to the plot, felt lackluster. The dialogue was sometimes resonant, sometimes cheesy, and the mood of the scenes felt oddly discombobulating, like going from brooding and sinister to disco-party-esque bright.

However, despite the criticism, FNAF is still a heartfelt and emotional ride. Through the reimagined story, the film and the game share central themes: the loss of a loved one, the aftermath of tragedy, and the reconciliation between grief, guilt, and hope. 

It’s only when Mike lets go of his despair and guilt to accept what he has, Abby, that he can save her. It’s only when Vanessa faces her fears and accepts her part in the countless tragedies that she can prevent the loss of other innocent lives. In that sense, Mike and Vanessa’s stories complement each other quite well: both lost souls struggling to cope with their tragedies prop each other up and encourage each other to take the following steps into healing.

To long-standing fans, FNAF is ultimately an entertaining and wonderfully made film, despite it not having earth-shattering scriptwriting prowess or award-winning cinematography, because of its clear purpose. 

The film is filled with easter eggs, fan-favorite cameos, original lore tidbits (like a character being fatally chomped by Freddy), and even the iconic “Five Nights at Freddy’s 1 Song” by The Living Tombstone, a fan-made and fan-mandated theme song for the franchise. The movie fully embraces its sometimes silly, sometimes spooky, but ultimately fun and fandom-induced craze without hesitation. 

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” doesn’t bring anything new to the table, nor does it surpass the expectations of many. What it does do, however, is fully dedicate itself to the fans that have made the film possible: it’s a genuine, heartfelt, and nostalgic movie that was crafted to cater to a specific audience, and sometimes, that’s all that a movie needs.

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About the Contributor
Rachel Choi
Rachel Choi, Illustrations/Graphics Editor & Chief Copyeditor & Social Media Manager
Rachel Choi (she/her) is a WLP major with a concentration in publishing and a minor in PR. She currently serves as the multimedia managing editor and chief copyeditor for the Beacon. She also occasionally likes to write oddly specific articles.

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