Five Nights at Freddy's director details the difficulty of working with "high maintenance" animatronics

Five Nights at Freddy's
(Image credit: Universal Studios)

Two doors, two light switches, and one set of grainy security cameras… The original Five Nights at Freddy’s was a simple online indie game: a night-shift simulator spent statically sat behind a desk in a pizza restaurant that comes under attack from animatronic monsters. Built around the kind of jump scares that made playing it feel like slowly winding a jack-in-the-box in the dark, the game became a global phenomenon. 

Dozens of sequels, countless books, and an ever-growing fanbase later, Five Nights at Freddy’s now has its own online lore and crossover universe – and it’s about to get a lot bigger. 

"Jason Blum gave me a ring," says director Emma Tammi, best known for 2018 western horror The Wind. "He mentioned Five Nights at Freddy’s and he thought I might be a good fit to direct the movie adaptation. I wasn’t familiar with the game, but I had been to Chuck E. Cheese…"

To anyone who might not have been to an American kids’ birthday party in the 90s, the pizza chain that hosted musical shows with a load of vaguely horrifying animatronic animal mascots was an obvious inspiration for the game and the film – with Josh Hutcherson cast as the security guard who has to survive his shifts with a giant singing robot bear, rabbit, chicken, and fox. 

"They do absolutely need to feel creepy and scary. And definitely weird. But then, you know, they also need to come alive and feel magical at times," says Tammi. "They’re hilarious and awkward and goofy, too. So it was a challenge trying to find the right blend of all those tones throughout the story."

More of a challenge was working with the film’s real monsters – designed and built by The Jim Henson Company to give the film a more authentic flavor. "It was a bit of a nod to the films of the 80s and 90s I grew up with, but it was also obviously just fantastic to have real animatronics walking around," says Tammi. "Our puppeteer team was just incredible. But… it’s also like having a load of very high-maintenance cast members on set. And I say high maintenance because there’s only a certain amount of time that the servos can operate before you risk blowing them out!"

Referencing the childhood wonder of classic Spielberg films, the darker texture of Joker, and even the dreamlike camerawork of Terrence Malick, Tammi wanted Five Nights at Freddy’s to feel like the movie you weren’t expecting it to be. "We were just trying to craft something that felt unique," she laughs. "It’s a little supernatural. And dark. And zany. It’s emotional. And scary…"

Five Nights at Freddy's hits theaters on October 27 and is set to stream on Peacock the same day. For more spooky watches, check out our guide to the best horror movies of all time.

Paul Bradshaw is a freelance film journalist who writes frequent reviews and features for Total Film. He's also a member of the London Critic's Circle.