Into the Dark 3: Pooka!



MAIN CAST: Nyasha Hatendi and Latarsha Rose

DIRECTOR: Nacho Vigalondo

After seeing writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s wonderful 2016 movie COLOSSAL, I’m in for anything he does.  Really, it’s an excellent movie and you should stop whatever you’re doing now, even if what you’re doing is reading this review that I wrote, which is obviously what you are doing, you should stop and go watch COLOSSAL.  You’re welcome.

And if I’d known before watching POOKA! that he directed it, I probably would have been more eager to get to it.  However, he didn’t write it, that went to Gerald Olsen with only two previous credits to his name.  Not that that should be an indication of the quality; some writers are great right from the first word, and Olsen has written a really good script here, and Vigalondo has directed a hell of a movie.

Even star Nyasha Hatendi, who has almost three dozen acting credits for stuff I’ve never seen, did an excellent job.  Going into this with an excitement level based solely on having seen a trailer that left me indifferent, I ended up enjoying this movie much more than I expected and soon I was watching attentively instead of half-heartedly while also on my phone.

Yes, I got much more enjoyment from this movie than the trailer had led me to expect.

But I should have gotten more.

POOKA! is the story of Wilson Clowes, new Los Angeles resident looking for his big break as an actor.  Almost immediately Wilson is hired as the mascot for POOKA!, the latest Christmas craze toy.  He makes his department store appearances where Pooka dolls fly off the shelves, gets his picture taken with the kids, and goes home at night with loads of cash in his bank account.  Things are looking up for Wilson Clowes.

They get even better when he meets Melanie (Latarsha Rose, THE HUNGER GAMES), a woman he’s noticed out and about and who has caught his eye.  Wilson and Melanie are building a good thing, along with her son Ty, and Wilson has never been happier.

But sometimes Pooka gets a little rowdy and sometimes Wilson isn’t sure why his fists are all bloody and swollen.  And things take a real nasty turn when Pooka makes an appearance at Ty’s birthday party.

And just when you think you know where things are headed, Olsen takes the story in another direction you didn’t expect, constantly keeping you on your toes.  The plot he’s unfolding here could go in any of a dozen different places, all original and unexpected, all potentially terrifying.  And then he takes it where he takes it and in those last 10-15 minutes just lets all the air out of what was working up to be one pretty damn big ball of suspense.

That ending. Christ.  Oh, that’s where he going with it?  Oh.  Okay.  Well … yeah, I guess.  Seems kind of lazy, but, okay, if that’s the ending you wanna go with, I can’t stop you.  Man, nothing ruins a really good movie quite like a mediocre, or bad, ending. But that was just the last few minutes; everything else leading up to that terrible turn was so good.

Vigalondo has an excellent style, no surprise with 26 directing credits to his name, and his sense of storytelling and suspense building is top notch here, and Hatendi gives Wilson the right amount of desperation as he tries to grab hold of the perfect life despite things falling apart around him.  Together, the two drew me completely into the world of POOKA!

Now, as for this being the Christmas entry in Hulu’s INTO THE DARK series … living in the Midwest and never having seen a winter or Christmas where the world wasn’t drowned in white, it’s hard for me to get a “Christmas” vibe from a Christmas movie set in Los Angeles.  Sunshine and clear skies doesn’t exactly say Christmas to me, so, as with the previous entry, FLESH AND BLOOD (Thanksgiving), the holiday theme this story is supposed to be conveying is only vaguely there. Yes, Wilson takes Melanie and Ty Christmas tree shopping, yes Pooka is the new sensation that’s flying off the shelves this season, but these are just words when you don’t have the visuals to back it up.  This could have been a summertime movie for all the wintery details I got.

You want a Christmas horror movie, watch KRAMPUSPOOKA! is just a horror movie that has a few side details one would usually associate with Christmas.  Not the same thing.

Having said that, that it doesn’t feel like a Christmas movie and that the ending is a HUGE cop-out, the rest of the movie was pretty good.  I really enjoyed 98% of the POOKA! experience and would definitely recommend it.

Pooka! is part of the Into the Dark Hulu original series.

More Into the Dark:

The Body

Flesh and Blood

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