M.L. Miller here! Because you and I love the horror so much, I’ve decided to post a “Worth Noting” pick along with each of my Horror Countdown choices each day through October. The same rules apply. The film must have been released before September 30th, 2019 to the masses (no festival picks). This means that is available to view in theaters, On Demand, DVD/BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films.
How did I compile this list? Horror is such a broad and varied genre that sometimes, while these choices may not represent the best—something about the film is worth taking notice. Some of these films have similar themes to their counterparts in the main countdown. Some just missed the countdown by an inch or two. Others were just squozed in because there’s nothing like them out there. Others because they have been made available for the first time. One way or another, it’s more horror to enjoy!
I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Worth Noting – POOKA!
I got into the INTO THE DARK series late, so forgive me if I am missing one of the best ones, but my favorite of the series so far is POOKA!, a bizarre descent into madness tale centered around the Christmas season. It’s an odd little gem that shows how effective low scale horror can be. Released in December of 2018, here’s my review of INTO THE DARK’s POOKA! Available exclusively on Hulu through their BlumHouse INTO THE DARK series!
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Written by Gerald Olson
Starring Nyasha Hatendi, Latarsha Rose, Jon Daly, Dale Dickey, Jonny Berryman, Diane Sellers
From the director of OPEN WINDOWS and COLLOSSAL comes POOKA!, Nacho Vigalondo’s twisted take on the classic film HARVEY. I’ve seen a few of the INTO THE DARK films on Hulu and so far all of them feel like 45 minute – 1 hour episodes stretched to feature length and while that feels like the case here in POOKA!, this one feels the less so out of all of them I’ve seen so far. Still, I really liked the concept and the performances throughout this quirky and tragic film.
Wilson (Nyasha Hatendi) is a down on his luck actor who recently moved to LA in order to shake up things in his life. The introverted man is obviously running away something and is hesitant to make new relationships, but feels drawn to his outgoing next door neighbor (Dale Dickey) and hopeful that his new job as a mascot for a new toy called Pooka will lead him down the road to success. Though he is hesitant at first, Wilson begins to get into the role of Pooka, finding pleasure in bringing so much joy to children who are in love with the popular toy. He even eyes a woman named Melanie (Latarsha Rose) one day and tries to form a relationship with her and her son Ty (Jonny Berryman). But as the relationship blossoms, things start going south for his relationship with his job as Pooka. Soon Wilson is experiencing blackouts and moments where he feels as if it is the costume and not him that is in control. Thus begins a slow descent into madness as Wilson’s psyche fractures leaving only Pooka to fill in the cracks.
While in no way I am comparing POOKA! to Todd Phillips’ JOKER in terms of quality, I will say that both are similar as they both successfully depict a person sliding into madness. This is a difficult task because if there is a leap too far in each meticulous inch into the void, the writer’s hand is shown and the illusion is shattered. POOKA!, like JOKER, starts out letting us know that something is wrong with the lead character. In this case, it’s less so as Wilson is definitely more stable than Arthur Fleck at first, but there is still an unease actor Nyasha Hatendi is able to imbue into the character when we first meet him. He’s an outcast and unsure of himself. Using this as a starting point, through the events that feel organic to the story, POOKA! proceeds to swirl down, down, down the rabbit hole as Wilson’s life begins to fall apart. It becomes clear that there is something wrong with Wilson and it is mapped out in such a way that it worked for me.
This descent it also supported by Hatendi’s amazing acting. The actor uses posture and tone of voice to really stretch from lovable loser to despicable schizoid in the ninety minutes we encounter him. Hatendi makes Wilson sympathetic enough for us to buy into his plight and we are there with him as his life begins to fracture. He’s able to keep that up just past the hour mark, just long enough for us to invest into him even when he becomes obsessed with wearing the Pooka suit all the time. It sounds silly saying it, but Hatendi and filmmaker Vigalondo make it feel believable in the world they have built.
There is a sense of oddity seeing a man in a large furry suit doing every day, mundane things. Just go to any Comic Convention and see the cosplayers waiting in line for food, using the ATM, or going to the bathroom and you get that same jangled feeling seeing these bigger than life characters acting out the every day ho-hums of the world. The design of the big suit is pretty unsettling as well with Pooka’s giant lgowing eyes, made all the more menacing when his red eyes are the only thing lighting up a dark hallway. As the story goes on and the suit becomes more frayed and worn in, it becomes a metaphor for Wilson’s own sanity—an additional thematic heft Vigalondo adds to sweeten the pot.
I haven’t seen all of the INTO THE DARK films, but I thought including POOKA! in this countdown would direct folks to the efforts Blumhouse and Hulu have committed to bringing one low budget horror film a month centering on a specific holiday. It appears they are in year two and I will be catching up with the film series as time permits. So far, POOKA! is the one that impacted me the most. Maybe there’s a better one that dropped this year. Let me know below if this is the case and what your faves of this series are.
WORTH NOTING SO FAR…
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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