Pooka! Hulu brings a Dickens classic Into the Dark


Pooka! is Blumhouse’s horror anthology Into the Dark’s third installment. Each moviesode revolves around a holiday of the month. This month it’s Christmas. The best episode to date drops December 7th on Hulu.

Pooka! is the episode that left me emotionally drained. I knew there was a twist coming because this is, after all, a Blumhouse production. But the gut punch I felt at the end of Pooka! took me by surprise. Yet, it was totally earned by the story.

Into the Dark gets better with every episode. The Body was a stylish parody that made me root for the bad guy. Flesh and Blood had me identifying with a sick and twisted killer.

Written by Gerald Olsen (Back to School Mom) and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal), Pooka! stars Nyasha Hatendi (The Front Runner) as a young thespian named Wilson who answers an acting ad in a coffee shop. It co-stars John Daly (Masterminds) as a casting director, Dale Dickey (Hell or High Water) as friendly neighbor Red, and Latarsha Rose (The Hunger Games) as would-be girlfriend Melanie. Jonny Berryman (This is Us) plays Melanie’s son Ty.

Unlike my reviews of the other episodes of Into the Dark, I’m going to deal directly with the plot. The acting is great, but it’s the story structure that was the most impactful part of the episode for me. So, if you haven’t seen Pooka!, watch it! Then come back here and try to find some catharsis.

Hardcore Teletubbie

As I mentioned in my preview for this episode of Into the Dark, Pooka looks more like the mutated offspring of Pickachu and Domu-Kun. Floofy with a limited vocabulary. There’s even the outline of a red circle on Pooka’s tummy. I think it’s an homage to the buttons on gingerbread men and a reminder of the sheer demonic force of the Teletubbies.

Also, Pooka’s eyes turn to fire. Sometimes.

Another fun fact about Pooka is that it records what it hears on a random basis and repeats it. Sometimes in a cheery voice. Sometimes in a not so cheery, demonic slur of oh-hell-no.

Wilson learns all about this when he meets the casting director. Pooka has a nice setting and a naughty setting. You don’t get to chose which one is activated because Pooka is unpredictable. Every member of your family who believes they are constantly being taped by the government will yell, “See! See! I told you! They know what it’s all about. That Pooka bear thing, boy. It’s just like the government. Just like it!”

Pooka-Into the Dark-Courtesy of Richard Foreman/Hulu

The casting director explains that he would like Wilson to wear a Pooka suit at a pop-up shop to create publicity.

At first, things look good for Wilson. He has a steady gig. He’s able to afford an apartment in a nicer building where he befriends Red, a former actress who claims her day has passed. He meets Melanie, a real estate agent and single mom of Ty. They begin to date. Wilson makes it his goal to win Ty over.

But there’s the Pooka suit. Sometimes Wilson feels the suit is overbearing on him. He finds it hard to breath with the huge headpiece on. This seems natural. Except, these incidents are accompanied by the low humming chorus of Bear McCreary’s score. It reminded me of the bees-in-a-can opening from the Iraqi desert in The Exorcist.

The tables start to turn. Wilson is only comfortable when he is in the suit. He becomes violent and Melanie kicks him out. And the worst thing that could possibly happen does happen: the toys are defective and interest dies out completely. The casting director asks for the suit back, but Wilson is unable to surrender it.

Twisted Dickens

Since we start to see Wilson disembodied and watching individual episodes play out in front of him, I don’t think this is a demonic possession movie at all. I felt as if I was watching a fresh, updated take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Jacob Marley: Pooka! opens up with a rotating shot of a Pooka laying on the ground. It’s on fire. It’s badly damaged and looking away from the camera. In an altered, ghostly voice the Pooka is repeating, “Look at all the pretty lights.”

In A Christmas Carol, Jacob Marley visits Scrooge and warns him that he’s on a path to hell. He also tells him that he’ll be visited by three ghosts. Scrooge is told to mind their warnings or be damned to an eternity of wearing whiteface and a bandage around his head.

The audience is being asked to heed a warning, as well. It seems sinister, but also melancholy, like Marley. “Look at all the pretty lights.”

Pooka-Into the Dark-Courtesy of Richard Foreman/Hulu

The Ghost of Christmas Past. This ghost is always a younger being. In the movie versions, it’s usually played by a dude with a perm in a frock. Here, it’s actually Pooka.

The little toy version that kids love is around when we first meet Wilson. He’s zoned out and in a coffee shop. After he takes a picture of a family, who he kindheartedly envies, he notices the acting ad. Through that he meets the casting director, befriends Red, meets Melanie, and becomes filled with a purpose.

Wilson is an actor. He’s found a role he can play. His audience, kids and their parents who want their kids to stop begging for this toy, love him.

This is the point where Wilson starts to become more comfortable in the Pooka suit. He’s not being possessed. He’s losing himself.

The Ghost of Christmas Present. This ghost is usually portrayed as a giant jolly bro. He knocks things over and wants you to know he’s around. He’s like St. Nick’s rapscallion brother Mick. Here, it’s the actual Pooka suit.

Pooka-Into the Dark-Courtesy of Richard Foreman/Hulu

These episodes occur when Wilson thinks he’s losing it. The suit is coming alive, stalking around his house, and destroying his possessions. That includes a thoroughly stomped Christmas tree.

Although he is able to buy a nice house with Melanie, he’s unable to win Ty over. Melanie and Ty were hurt by Ty’s dad. Desperate to complete his family life with Ty’s love, he sets up a Pooka party where Pooka will make a personal appearance. That’s right! Melanie and Ty don’t know Wilson is Pooka.

Things go bad when a kid makes fun of Ty and Wilson/Pooka beats the kid up.

The Ghost of Christmas Future. I guess it’s a uniquely British imperial thing to view the future as a mute avatar of death. In the movies, this ghost looks like a member of the Sith with bones for limbs.

These episodes occur when Wilson confronts Pooka for trying to possess him. Wilson thrashes him and leaves him bloody and muddy. In other words, Pooka looks like death.

But, Pooka doesn’t die. He accompanies Wilson who flees on foot to try and save Melanie and Ty. He believes they are in danger.

Pooka-Into the Dark-Courtesy of Richard Foreman/Hulu

Here’s where things get real. When Wilson, still wearing part of the Pooka suit, arrives home with life size Pooka, Melanie and Ty can’t see him. He’s watching a vision that gets creepier when we see an uncharacteristic Wilson walk in. Instead of a plaid shirt and laid back attitude, he’s wearing a leather jacket and some prima donna sweat.

Melanie believes he’s cheating on her. Maybe he is, but I think the cheating is actually his devotion to the role of Pooka. He gets so into fan service, he neglects his family.

In a rage, he thrashes the family Christmas tree, like Pooka did earlier. Melanie and Ty are upset, but Wilson vows to make it up to them. If they leave right away, they can make the Christmas tree lot.

He’s speeding. Melanie is holding Ty in the back seat. She tells him to “Look at all the pretty lights” moments before Wilson crashes the car.

Look at All The Pretty Lights

Wilson wakes up. He’s been thrown clear of the car, which explodes with Melanie and Ty in it. Wilson hit Red’s car head on, which kills Red and her passenger.

Pooka-Into the Dark-Courtesy of Richard Foreman/Hulu

The color theme for the episode was dark red and green. The blood and ambulance lights that wash out the frame in the final scene are in red light. As it turns out, the casting director is actually a paramedic who flashes a green tinted light in Wilson’s eyes to check his pupils. They both start to hear Pooka, on fire, facing away from them, repeating “Look at all the pretty lights.” Then we pan to Wilson in the Pooka suit standing next to Pooka.

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Is Wilson able to prevent this fate? Is this just something that flashed in his mind in his final moments? Either way, I believe the warning is for the audience. Do not become obsessed by fame and fortune. If you have family and can provide for them revel in it. Or you risk losing it all.

Did you stream Pooka? Have you recovered from it? Let’s discuss in the comments!