Freddy Fazbear superfans, your The Eras Tour moment has arrived: Five Nights at Freddy’s, a comedic horror flick directed by Emma Timme and based on the popular indie video game series of the same name, opens in theaters this Friday.
The 2023 scary movie slate has seen some inspired original work–Talk To Me, M3GAN, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster—but also a host of sequels and reboots ranging from good (Evil Dead Rise) to surprisingly good (Saw X) to divisive (The Exorcist: Believer). Five Nights at Freddy’s enters this crowded field just in time for Halloween.
Scott Cawthon’s franchise—which debuted in 2014 and has spawned myriad sequels and spin-offs in the ensuing decade—has a passionate cult audience, but remains relatively unknown to casual moviegoers, which means it’s a fascinating wild card given its prime release date before Halloweekend.
Below, GQ walks you through the lore surrounding Five Nights at Freddy’s, the key players involved, and, most importantly, whether the movie is going to be any good.
What is Five Nights at Freddy’s about?
The movie will build on the game’s plot, in which the protagonist is a security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a Chuck E. Cheese-style chain restaurant featuring a host of friendly-looking animatronic animal characters who come to life over the night shift, with murderous consequences.
Okay, sounds great, but is there by any chance a super-messed-up canonical reason why these animatronics are walking around and killing people? Fingers crossed that the answer includes the words “blood, mucus, and foul odors.”
Per Wikipedia: “From the third game forward…it is retroactively established that the animatronics are actually possessed by spirits of children murdered by restaurant cofounder and overarching franchise antagonist William Afton, who stuffed the bodies inside the animatronics, then accidentally killed himself when he disguised himself in an animatronic suit and activated its springlocks. This backstory is hinted at during the exposition of the first game, when the man heard on the phone explains that the restaurant’s reputation was damaged when blood, mucus, and foul odors began to leak from the animatronics’ eyes and mouths.”
Who created Five Nights at Freddy’s?
The franchise was originally created by Scott Cawthon, who developed Five Nights after a stalled career making Christian-centric games and films. The first Five Nights was made independently and released in 2014, earning critical acclaim and a massive fan base for an indie game. Several sequels and related spinoff games have come in the ensuing decade, including an interstellar offshoot called Freddy in Space.
Cawthon retired from game development entirely in 2021, following controversial revelations that he had donated thousands of dollars to a number of Republican politicians in 2020, including Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. In a lengthy post on the hugely popular FNAF subreddit, Cawthon wrote, “I’m a Republican. I’m a Christian. I’m pro-life. I believe in God. I also believe in equality, and in science, and in common sense. Despite what some may say, all of those things can go together. That’s not an apology or promise to change, it’s the way it’s always been.” He proclaimed his support for LGBTQ+ members of the Five Nights community, but also somewhat flippantly wrote, “If I get canceled, then I get canceled.”
When he departed, Cawthon stated that he would find a successor to shepherd the franchise, and Five Nights does appear to be soldiering on under new leadership—Five Nights at Freddy’s Help Wanted 2 was announced at May’s PlayStation Showcase, and, per IGN, seems to be a sequel to a 2019 offshoot game initially released for VR devices.
Jason Topolski, a Pixar veteran and head of Steel Wool Studios, has been involved in the direction on some recent installments, though it still seems unclear who will be in charge of developing the franchise in Cawthon’s stead.
Who’s involved in the movie?
When FNAF’s trailer dropped, non-gamer horror-movie buffs undoubtedly took note of its striking resemblance to the 2021 Nicolas Cage horror flick Willy’s Wonderland, though obviously Cawson’s franchise preceded the mildly amusing Cage release. (Five Nights was heavily invoked in criticism of Willy’s, and there was controversy in the gaming community over similarities between the two.)
While the FNAF movie doesn’t boast a genre-film draw of Cagean magnitude, it does feature a strong crop of talent both in front of and behind the cameras. Ubiquitous child star and Hunger Games deuteragonist Josh Hutcherson plays the lead role, and he’s previously excelled in the underseen horror comedy with Tragedy Girls. Other key roles are filled by Gossip Girl’s Elizabeth Lail, longtime character actor Matthew Lillard (Stu Macher in Scream and Shaggy in the ‘00 live-action Scooby-Doo movies), and Mary Stuart Masterson, best known for films like Fried Green Tomatoes, but also a gifted genre performer who’s showcased that side of her artistry in Daniel Isn’t Real.
Serving as director and co-writer is Emma Tammi, a versatile filmmaker whose 2018 horror western The Wind fuses two disparate genres—the loneliness of pioneer life proves to be a terrific backdrop for this harrowing story of survival. (It’s like The Revenant if The Revenant had demons instead of angry bears.) Obviously, the tone of Five Nights is more playful than The Wind or Blood Moon, Tammi’s contribution to the Hulu anthology Into the Dark, but she’s shown creative versatility already–in 2014, she directed the running-centric documentary Fair Chase.
Cawthon received a co-writing credit on the film, which was already in development when he stepped away from the franchise.
Is this movie gonna be any good?
The pair of trailers released by Universal are promising, and Blumhouse has a strong track record of making great goofy horror flicks–M3GAN, Happy Death Day, and Freaky, just to name a few. Tammi’s film seems to make inspired use of the arcade setting, and the creature design seems both cinematically amped-up and faithful to the games.
One worrying aspect, as The Direct noted, is that the film has a very narrow review embargo window before its release. That’s frequently a sign that a studio fears negative feedback on the project, and wants to minimize the amount of time people have to read reviews and consider whether they really want to invest their time and money in this movie. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, though. Saw X lifted its embargo extremely late and still managed some of the best reviews in the franchise’s history. Review embargos can also be a tactic to avoid spoilers—that’s typically why major superhero movies have pretty tight windows, though as The Direct wrote, that’s unlikely to be the cause here, since the film will be released on streamer Peacock prior to hitting theaters.
Some hardcore horror fans may be turned off by Freddy’s PG-13 rating, which sets it apart from the R-rated Willy’s Wonderland. In an interview with Inverse, Tammi explained that they wanted new film to be inclusive of the franchise’s younger fans, which forced them to get creative about depicting violence. “In some cases, we leaned into shadows and silhouettes and sound design to really feel the moment in an impactful way without showing any gore,” Tammi said.
Ultimately, Five Nights seems like a good enough time, particularly for younger horror fans. Whether the video game history and franchise lore proves to help or hinder remains to be seen.