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Five Spiritual Takeaways After Spending 'Five Nights at Freddy’s'

| October 31, 2023 | By

Five Nights at Freddy’s directed by Emma Tammi, based on the video game created by Scott Cawthon. Rated PG-13

Scott Cawthon once created Christian-oriented video games. A young beaver character in one of the games looked like an animatronic character that came off as unintentionally terrifying.

As Cawthon ventured into mainstream videogame entertainment, he decided to make a group of animatronic characters intentionally scary, thus spawning the Five Nights at Freddy's universe -- over which he keeps tight control (and that includes the movie, which is in theaters and streaming on Peacock).

From a profile of Cawthon (who describes himself as Christian and pro-life) at the New York Times:

These religious-themed [videogame] titles — like Noah’s Ark and The Pilgrim’s Progress, based on the John Bunyan allegory — were an intensely personal reflection of his Christian beliefs. But despite a generally warm reception from like-minded gamers, they were not generating the kind of income Cawthon needed to support his wife and children,

Their failure provoked a crisis of faith.

“I felt like I’d squandered so many years of my life,” he later told a Christian gaming blog, adding, “I came to the conclusion that I could not have failed so miserably unless God himself had been holding me down.”

Cawthon, a graduate of the Art Institute of Houston who is based in Salado, Texas, reluctantly abandoned the Christian market and began working on games with greater commercial appeal.

Five Nights at Freddy's considers the one fear any of us who’ve attended a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese have probably pondered: what if those robotic stage animal characters ever came to life?

There’s something meaningful in the mundane.

Struggling to support his much younger sister, Abby (Piper Rubio), Mike (Josh Hutcherson) takes a dead-end security-guard job at the shuttered family entertainment center, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza.

As simple as his duties seem, he still manages to nod off for most hours of his shift, and that’s when the supernatural troubles begin. There’s really no excuse or distractions to explain that Mike's bad at his job. He doesn’t even manage to flirt with a potential romantic interest, police officer Vanessa (Elizabeth Lail), who has Freddy’s within her jurisdiction.

Here, Mike seems to channel a celibate monk, who might be good at the celibacy part, but may sleep through the long middle-of-the-night prayers. With Advent approaching, I was reminded we’re all to keep vigil, no matter how mundane our professional lives become from time to time.

Even good nostalgia is bad for you.

Mike clearly struggles with hurt from the past. A flashback reveals a kidnapper snatched his younger brother under Mike’s watch. He can’t seem to manage this real-life nightmare.

Too much cherishing of happy memories contains its pitfalls, too. Vanessa frequented the pizza joint many times in her childhood. Now, in adulthood, she holds an odd affinity for a place boarded up years ago.

Again, the consistent message comes through, move beyond past hurts and joys, and stay vigilant in the present.

Faith themes work better in the mainstream.

The movie is secular on the level of plot. On one occasion, Mike does lament to Vanessa he misses when his family held hands and prayed grace before meals. It seemed goofy at the time, he says, but now, older, and wiser, he appreciates prayer’s value.

My instincts lead me to believe faith will be developed as the series unfolds, but Mike’s character arc begins with him lapsed from the faith.

Stream, especially if you’re squeamish about horror.

Freddy’s in-theater, opening-weekend box office -- $80M in the U.S., and $132M internationally -- is truly remarkable considering it was a day and date release also on streamer Peacock.

Peacock reported the horror flick is the most watched media on its platform, since it launched a few years ago. I typically suggest movie lovers watch the film in the dark at theaters with friends and strangers, enduring the jump scares together.

Streaming, though, provides viewers with the option to watch early in the day, allowing the story to filter out of their psyche by bedtime.

Know the difference between dead souls and evil spirits. And know either one can provide for a long spiritual battle.

The difference can be difficult to parcel out. Even an exorcism from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark finds a possessed man lurking in a graveyard.

As the film unfolds, we learn several children went missing in town years ago. Did they end up at Freddy’s? Was there foul play involved? If so, were demonic spirits somehow invited in? Or are they just dead souls wanting release from where they’re stuck? Or some combo of the above?

The first installment only resolves some of these questions, a clever ambiguous move, leaving the door open for sequels. This also makes for a more realistic environment, as real-life infestation cases can last years -- even those freed through exorcism must remain vigilant.

So, indeed, stand vigil. Ready to watch. Or stream. On guard for the next Five Nights at Freddy’s.

With its PG-13 rating, meaning it's aiming for middle-schoolers and up, Five Nights at Freddy's dials down the excessive gore and outrageous violence seen among many contemporary scary films. Common Sense Media recommends it for age 14 and up (and the reviews there from parents and teens score it much higher than CSM itself, which only gives it two stars out of 5).

Image: Universal Pictures

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