You might not think a story about a bunch of terrifying animatronic pizza joint robots who routinely kill children would make for a hot-ticket movie, but Five Nights at Freddy’s is finally getting a hotly anticipated theatrical release on October 27.

The movie, a product of Universal and Blumhouse, seems to be a faithful, fanservice-heavy adaptation of the hit video game franchise, which became an immediate hit when it was released in 2014. Over time, its popularity grew, a relatively rare indie game penetrating mainstream culture. 

The game is known for its abundance of classic nostalgic horror elements: scary empty buildings with a maze of corridors, creepy children’s toys that seem fun during the daytime but turn malevolent at night, and jump scares — lots and lots of jump scares. The titular Freddy is a giant animatronic teddy bear that wants, along with all of his fun animal friends, to murder you, and he could be waiting around any corner.

If all that sounds like a fairly straightforward pastiche of classic horror movies, you’re not wrong. That’s also why it’s surprising that it took this long to adapt Five Nights at Freddy’s for cinema — it already has all of the components of a horror movie built into its setting and structure.

Yet Freddy’s (colloquially styled FNAF, pronounced “finaff”) is more than just a fun horror game. The franchise had a huge impact on gaming fandom and YouTube culture, and epitomized the now-ubiquitous popularity of games that keep their audiences guessing, not just about what’s going to happen, but about what it all means. 

The game’s ability to worldbuild while taking you through a standard horror scenario only grew over the years, through a staggering eight main games including one in virtual reality, five spinoff games, dozens of books and graphic novels, and now the movie.

All of this means that now, nearly 10 years out from FNAF’s debut, its so-called “lore” is incredibly deep. The story about a bunch of giant scary robot animals is also, according to many of its fans, a giant, bottomless, murderous puzzle box.

FNAF is about a scary pizzeria stuffed with animatronic animals that are trying to kill you

This entire saga is the brainchild of Scott Cawthon, a veteran Christian game developer who said in a 2014 interview that he got the idea for FNAF after one of his previous games garnered negative reviews: “[P]eople said the main character looked like a scary animatronic.” At some point, much like the villain of FNAF, Cawthon “snapped” and decided to show the world just how scary he could be. 

The fascinating element of this backstory, however, is that in the interview where he reveals his Christian faith, he talks of speaking to and being guided by God to direct his life, much as fans of his games are guided by the signs and clues he includes in the design to interpret the story they’re in. 

(Cawthorn received significant backlash in 2021 after fans discovered he had donated to several conservative causes including political campaigns for Donald Trump and former Congress member Tulsi Gabbard, as well as anti-abortion groups. After the controversy, he announced his retirement from game development.)

According to a tongue-in-cheek Reddit post from Cawthorn, the film won’t delve too heavily into the fan-constructed universe that spun out over all of the games; instead, it will draw on what he dubbed “the Mike script,” which, judging from his description and from the trailers, seems to be a loose but faithful adaptation of the first game. 

“The Mike script” is so named because of its central character, Mike Schmidt, played by Josh Hutcherson in the movie. The basic conceit of FNAF — survive five nights with murderous animatronic dolls in this creepy building as they steadily level up their murderous methods — should translate well to the big screen, especially since the film seems to level up the stakes in at least one big way: by giving Mike a daughter, Abby (a variant on a game character introduced later in the series), and bringing her into the nightmarish funhouse.

In the game, you play as Mike Schmidt, a lowly new night guard tasked with caretaking the beloved Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza in your town. Everyone loves Freddy’s, with its fun giant robotic dolls and arcade-style galleria. 

At night, however, the animals begin what the game describes as “free-roaming”— meaning they can move freely throughout the building. The problem arises from the way the animals view humans in their orbit during this free-roaming period: as animatronic robots who’ve lost their suits. If they see a human, your handler informs you at the beginning of the game, they’ll try to stuff the human inside one of the animatronic robot suits. This is apparently not optimal for survival.

The titular five nights refers to the time you have to spend in the building after everyone else has gone home. If you can last the whole week without getting found and murdered by the robots, you win the game.

Surviving is easier said than done. The main animatronic crew of FNAF consists of an aggressive purple rabbit named Bonnie, a giant yellow chicken named Chica, a broken-down robot pirate fox named Foxy who wears an eyepatch and a hook for a hand and has his own devoted subfandom, and Freddy, a slow-moving but ominous brown teddy bear. Together, they roam the halls of the pizzeria, and if they find you, they’ll kill you.

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