(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
While there’s no connective tissue between Into The Dark entries besides holiday jollies, last-last Christmas’ “Pooka” plushie became the program’s unofficial mascot. Blumhouse promotes the deviant plaything’s antics 24/7, including “Naughty Pooka’s” own Twitter profile, so its April resurrection comes with minimal surprise. Alejandro Brugués’ Pooka Lives is part deux in an ongoing saga, were creepypasta culture (retitled “eeriepasta”) rebirths the devil-toy in supernatural form. Think Slender-Man, think Mercy Black, except replace gangly businessmen or scarecrow fables with a pot-bellied, huggable murderer who takes a more freakish rabbit form.
Easter’s celebration of Jesus’ “he is risen!” miracle brings warped religion and forum-chat cultism to Hulu, given how Pooka Lives certainly isn’t satirizing Tax Day or any other monthly event-based sensations.
Professional writer Derrick (Malcolm Barrett) flees New York City for his hometown of Spring Valley after being, well, chased out for lack of better descriptions. Now staying with old friends Molly (Felicia Day) and Matt (Jonah Ray), the “disgraced” author deals with an ongoing character assassination organized by an outraged YouTuber. Laying low, he secures a job writing content for Spectacular Contraptions, who are gearing up for their celebratory Pooka 2.0 release. With Pooka on the mind, an inebriated Derrick pens his own urban legend merging the creator of Pooka’s murderous past with his company’s upcoming release party. Perform a ritual and Pooka appears to judge the naughty as per Derrick’s joke post, but could the internet’s cesspool of trollish energy actually conjure an undead spirit in furry Pooka form?
Rest assured, Pooka Lives is one of the more fun-filled Into The Dark segments by canon. Between Juan Of The Dead and Nightmare Cinema, Brugués proves even-handed when blending comedy with horror’s gorier bits. Derrick’s reacclimation to small-town stuffiness is aided by Matt’s father-of-the-week corniness and Molly’s obsession with healing crystals or Tibetan mysticism beliefs. Online personality “Jax” is the rage-fueled encapsulation of everything you hate about popular video content creators. Best of all, Pooka’s interactions build a monster who evolves as the internet’s vileness runneth over. Jokes about now-sexy policeman Ben (Gavin Stenhouse) and Susan’s (Lyndie Greenwood) workplace frustrations added for expectancy points.
You see, Derrick wrote a study on internet personalities which offended vlogger Jax and others mentioned – and, thusly, started an online war. Ryan Copple’s screenplay shares direct similarities with The Hunt, both about how internet users manifest the worst into happening, initially true or false. Nothing groundbreaking, but digital thumbprints and the fragility of virtual egos expose a larger issue: the marketability of negativity. Derrick is forced to make a decision when his most famous authored content can’t even be properly attributed, especially if it causes the apocalypse. Er, sorry, the “#Apookalypse.” A message that resonates, albeit called-upon before and easily comprehended.
Properly, Pooka returns with a new look. Immediate summonings are that of original approachable designs, but as commenters doodle scarier and gnarlier Pooka representations to intensify viral appeal, Pooka’s real-world appearance reflects each meaner iteration. From portly and lovable to clawed, leanly cut, and more barbaric in stature. Maybe even with lederhosen, because why not? Brugués takes advantage of a more menacing Pooka, mauling and stabbing those “deserving” participants who dance his beckoning moves. Appearing from shadows, emerging from closets, or peering down the windshield of your sedan.
Cinematography accentuates Pooka’s blue and red eye light-ups; blue for calm and red for attack-mode. Frequent nods to the color scheme range from blood-red filters drenching entire doorways to the camera pulling from Sonic-blue and Knuckles-red cocktails before hitting Derrick’s barroom table. Brugués stages an eerily crimson after-hours workplace shot where Derrick, unaware in his cubicle, doesn’t see Pooka dolls strewn about his entire floor flashing their bright-red eye bulbs one-by-one. It’s a smart choice, using conveyances of fury to sell monster aggression while saving costume reveals for only the most important sequences. Visual storytelling with a bit more stimulation.
Then again, Into The Dark’s restraints rob us of the film’s true climax that’s illustrated in cartoon form over closing credits. Understandably, given how Blumhouse orders breakneck filming schedules on tight budgets to turn around Into The Dark titles once a month. The #Apookalypse teases an ending where Pooka 2.0 unleashes all the old – now outdated – Pooka dolls on storage shelves, much like the Child’s Play remake teases an army of Chucky dolls but is all talk. Same with Pooka Lives. These are still downsized features, and where Bruges incorporates more graphic slasher material, audiences still shouldn’t expect potential in the form of countless Pooka hordes. Someday, maybe on the big screen, we’ll get the Gremlins-influenced Pooka sequel we deserve.
Pooka Lives is a warning against chasing fame and a reminder of who’s proven themselves worthy enough for your end-of-the-world fight squad. A much-needed bounceback after My Valentine and Crawlers, stark on holiday theming but stacked with character actors who mold innocence into a lovable, haunt-your-homelife legend. Into The Dark’s latest conceptualizes in a way that benefits goofball horror storytelling, and engrains its fan-favorite figure in the franchise’s recognizable lexicon. The second stuffing-and-coming turns out to be exactly what this anthology needs right about now.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10
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