INTO THE DARK: POOKA LIVES! (2020)
Directed by Alejandro Brugués
Written by Ryan Copple
Starring Malcolm Barrett, Lyndie Greenwood, Felicia Day, Jonah Ray, Gavin Stenhouse, Amir Talai, Laurel Toupal, Ben Weinswig, Motoki Maxted, Wil Wheaton, Rachel Bloom, Willow Beuoy, and Alexander Ward & Gene Freeman
JUAN OF THE DEAD’s Alejandro Brugués delivers INTO THE DARK’s first sequel, the follow-up to one of the better instalments in the Hulu series titled POOKA LIVES! Instead of focusing on a dark descent into madness like the Nacho Vigolondo-helmed original POOKA, POOKA LIVES! leans more towards comedic and horrific action, with a bit of a comment on internet fame and cancel culture. The results are a clunkily themed, but undeniably fun romp full of blood, violence, Felicia Day, and of course, our furry friend Pooka!
Ignoring the original story of POOKA, POOKA LIVES! delves into the dark origins behind the popular Pooka doll. A “cancelled” writer named Derrick (Malcolm Barrett from PREACHER, but I remember him from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILIDELPHIA as Dee’s gay boyfriend) moves back to his home town and takes a job as a copywriter in the Pooka manufacturing plant. Staying with high school friends Molly (Felicia Day) and Matt (Jonah Ray) in their spare room, Derrick is trying to get his life back together after writing a hit piece on a YouTube star backfired and left him jobless and cancelled in the judgmental eyes of the interweb. Derrick reconnects with his ex, Susan (Lyndie Greenwood), who just so happens to work at the Pooka plant as well. One night, while drinking with his group of friends, Derrick makes up a Creepypasta about Pooka, claiming that the real Pooka can be conjured up by singing the mechanical Teddy Ruxpin/Good Guy doll rip-off’s theme song and swallowing ashes. Soon, the story is trending and people are trying the ritual themselves. Wouldn’t you know it? Pooka begins appearing and murdering anyone who follows the steps. Now it’s up to Derrick, the man who made Pooka a meme, to destroy that which he created!
There is an infectiously fun tone to POOKA LIVES! The film moves at a rapid clip. It doles out not only some fun gore, but also some creepy scenes in a world that is obsessed with the furry little doll such as a scene where an entire office full of Pooka’s is lit from the light of their red eyes. The film also offers up a distinctly different looking Pooka monster—this one looking much leaner and meaner and giving off quite a dramatic silhouette (which is utilized well numerous times in the film). Filmmaker Brugués not only delivers exciting camerawork during the scenes of thrill and action, but also has the patience to slow things down and make things creepy using light and shadow. You would be surprised how many filmmakers are unable or unwilling to do both.
My issue with POOKA LIVES! is that it is almost exactly “in the moment” in terms of cancel culture and YouTube sensations. This immediately dates the film and I imagine a year from now, all of this will feel like ancient history. Or maybe not. The problem is that Brugués casts all of the human villains in POOKA LIVES! as one dimensional. The boss, a Twitter obsessed co-worker, and the YouTuber troll identifying himself as “Ya boy, Jax!” come off as cardboard villains with little or no motivation for the things they do. I always thought that if you’re going to make a villain, the most interesting are ones depicted with a bit of depth. Making the villains cartoonish is a cheap and lazy way of making the heroes look good. Also the film depicts Twitter folks and Youtubers being on the same side against Derrick. Anyone who has followed any of the ongoing feud between the two parties know that this is an oversimplification of the relationship, molding both opposing sides into one side against our hero Derrick. It all feels rather lazy and with the need to be seen/heard online being such a big part of the plot, one would think a little more detail would have been put into the story. Unfortunately, the whole cancel culture thing falls by the wayside in the final act when it just becomes a light action romp, with the five thirty-somethings quipping as if they just binged an entire season of a Joss Whedon show right before going into battle. That style of dialog makes it fun, but it is also dated and takes away from the direness of the situation the cast is in.
While the tone varies from dangerous to cartoonish and the themes are raised and dropped when convenient, POOKA LIVES! is a good one to simply turn off your brain and watch. I preferred the much darker and more eerie original, but POOKA LIVES! delivers a more digestible and safer take on the little monster, literally making him a cross between Slender Man (as Pooka comes from our own desire to make him real) and Chucky (for obvious reasons). I like the way Pooka is simply the middle cog in which two vastly different tales have sprung from. Maybe a third will give another vastly different take on the little guy. POOKA LIVES! feels more like the GREMLINS II: THE NEW BATCH to the original POOKA’s GREMLINS. If you get that reference and are still intrigued, you’re the intended audience for POOKA LIVES!