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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

‘I Always Come Back’: The Theatrical Success of ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’

Illustration by Molly Boyke

Opinions expressed in Beacon Op-Eds are not necessarily shared by the entire staff. It is the responsibility of Opinion editors to elevate each individual’s unique voice. 

I’ve been playing cat and mouse with the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” movie for eight years: I got my hopes up in elementary school, again in middle school, and was left hanging in high school. So when the film was finally complete, it felt surreal to be seeing it with my college roommate. 

It’s out of character for me to arrive early to anything, but I was literally the first one in that theater. I felt my ten-year-old self growing anxious to see the film that I’d waited for since 2015. As the previews went on for what seemed like another eight years, I noticed I was in a packed house. Soon, there wasn’t an empty seat in sight.

I knew I was in good company when the lights finally dimmed and everyone gasped. 

The opening credits sequence began with a raucous round of applause and whoops from every corner of the room. I found myself clapping along with them, swept up in the excitement. It was like Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour,” but for nerds. The mere shadow of an animatronic on the wall was enough to send us into hysterics. 

With every reference to existing parts of the franchise, the energy in the theater grew. There was a sense of community in recognizing the subtle reference in a line, gasping at a character hidden in a scene’s background, or being the first to clap after a particularly gruesome animatronic attack. Although they may walk around on their own, the fans’ response to the film is what truly brings its animatronics to life.

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” developed a reputation for its reactions in 2014. The first game utterly dominated the YouTube gaming scene with its sudden jumpscares and deceptively simple mechanics. Many of the game’s most devoted fans were introduced to it through watching various “Let’s Play” series online, in which a gamer narrates their experience playing a video game. YouTube content creator Markiplier’s first video documenting “Freddy’s” gained 114 million views with his exaggerated jumpscare reactions and humorous commentary.

The game’s early appeal came from its bizarre premise. Its player takes on the role of Mike Schmidt, a newly hired security guard working the night shift at a children’s pizzeria chain. The restaurant’s four homicidal animatronics free-roam the building at night, attempting to reach the guardsman by any means necessary. 

Its players quickly latched onto the implication that something more sinister than murderous animatronics was hidden in the game. Theorists analyzed newspaper clippings pasted to the walls, typed in secret codes to find surprise jumpscares, and wondered what to make of the message “It’s Me” appearing repeatedly. 

Notably, YouTuber Matthew Patrick, also known as MatPat, took Schmidt’s paycheck from the game’s ending and compared the sum to the minimum wage in 1993, pinpointing the year in which it occurred. His channel would go on to upload over ninety videos compiling the ‘FNaF lore,’ spanning all nine main games, four spin-offs, a novel trilogy, and twenty anthologies. 

With help from his team and an active online community, Patrick makes sense of the story’s breadcrumbs dropped in each installment and uses them to create a cohesive timeline of events and characters. The end result of nine years of work is the length of a movie, with his “Ultimate Timeline” clocking in at one hour and twenty-six minutes.

With that considered, the movie adaptation’s eight-year production timeline seems justified. Its script was fully rewritten at least three times during development, and the film’s rocky handoff from Warner Bros. Pictures to Blumhouse Productions in 2017 pushed its schedule back even further. 

Many fans assumed the movie would never see the light of day, and that if it did, it wouldn’t be true to the original spirit of the franchise. When trailers and teasers released earlier this year, those that doubted its existence were proven wrong. 

Up to opening night, excitement for the film was tinged with anxiety. All of us held our breath to see how the series we knew and loved would translate to the big screen. The long wait for the adaptation provided plenty of time for theorists and fans to speculate about what would be included in the film. 

Although the film’s plot is set during the events of the first game, it’s true that it isn’t completely faithful to the ‘lore’ that fans have assembled. To fans, Mike Schmidt was a faceless and a nearly nameless protagonist, save for the paycheck he receives at the week’s end. Now, Mike has a face—Josh Hutcherson, to be more exact—and a younger sister, Abby, who he works hard to protect and ultimately builds a closer bond with by the end of the film. Abby, played by Piper Rubio, allows the film to explore a side of the animatronics that the games haven’t: how they interact with children. Her relationship with Mike humanizes him, making him a relatable character audiences can root for. 

The character of Vanessa, a police officer who is particularly interested in “Freddy’s”, appears far earlier than she does in the game’s timeline. Played by Elizabeth Laile, her role in the film is crucial. She serves as an important ally for Mike and a means of communicating the restaurant’s complicated history to him and to viewers. 

The die-hard fans in my theater definitely noticed these changes—“That’s not lore-accurate,” one audience member grumbled—but remained enthusiastic nonetheless. Even though the film isn’t entirely accurate to the games’ minute details, it still walks the fine line between horror and humor the same way the games do. The animatronics go from committing ghastly murders to building a delightful furniture fort in the span of half an hour, demonstrating their range in ways that even the original material didn’t explore. 

The decision to actually construct the animatronics rather than using computer graphics for them was the right one. It’s one thing to watch them in the game’s flickering security cameras, but to see them interacting with people in a real-world setting is wholly another. Jim Henson’s Creature shop went above and beyond for the film, and their efforts show in every scene. Their movements can be robotic and unsettling, or smooth and weirdly adorable. 

More than anything, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” is unabashedly and unapologetically for the fans. 

As the film concluded and the audience recognized the opening bars of the fan-made song “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” cheers erupted from every corner of the theater and everyone joined in for the chorus. It’s the reason that the film is breaking box-office records even though it was available to stream online the same day. “Five Nights at Freddy’s” is a film best experienced in a room full of fans that are a little too excited, just the way that it was intended to be.

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