Review: POOKA, Like It's Titular Toy, Is A Smash Hit
If you’re not clued into Into the Dark, it’s a twelve month endeavor from a blossoming relationship between streaming giant Hulu and horror juggernaut Blumhouse. It’s an anthology film series that spans an entire year, and a new creative team tackles a new film based on a holiday from that month. The first two months, starting fittingly in October for Halloween, saw The Body and In Flesh and Blood, and now we get our Christmas entry. Get ready to meet the Pooka.
Now the pooka, in traditional folklore, is an Irish creature that can be either malevolent or benevolent and takes on the form of different animals. In pop culture, it’s most well known for being alluded to as the main character of Harvey, and in this case takes the form of a rabbit. With Blumhouse’s Pooka, we get a fun mix of both portrayals, as our pooka is the hit toy of the season, and it looks mostly like a (you guessed it) rabbit, albeit a weird cartoonish creepy one. Wilson is a struggling actor who gets a break when he gets cast as the live action mascot of the pooka, a giant version of the toy, complete with flashing red or blue eyes, the colors representing whether he is being naught or nice. Similar to furby, Pooka records sayings said by it’s owner and repeats them in a polite manner or a distorted, warped return. His life seems to turn around, become a successful actor and meeting a woman who he is quickly enamored with. When Wilson starts to lose chunks of time and nearly co-dependent on his Pooka suit, his seemingly perfect world teeters on the brink of crashing down around him.
Nacho Vigalondo tackles directing duties this go round, the same man who gave us the poignant and criminally underrated Colossal as well as the cerebral Timecrimes, and it’s his deft hand that gives us the best of the Into the Dark anthology yet. Vigalondo takes some of the best elements of both Colossal and Timecrimes and reintroduces them here. The bleak and dark comedy seen in Colossal and the constant nervous anticipation of "what comes next” of Timecrimes are both apparent in Pooka and played with perfectly. Vigalondo is a chemist and he’s concocted a perfect formula; we are able to bounce around fluidly between cartoonish scenes of the Pooka in children’s commercials then flip on a dime to the same outlandish character bullying his way around as a terrifying absurdist monster. It’s a dadaist nightmare.
Nyasha Hatendi is fantastic as Wilson, a man who always seems to be near nervous breakdown, a dangerous and vulnerable man who plays the role quietly, close to the chest. His very slow tumble into a life he can not recognize is accentuated by his mild demeanor and whispered delivery. Jon Daly is thrown in as a flavor dash of levity, his schilling snake oils salesmen persona is unabashedly obnoxious but fun, and Latarsha Rose and John Berryman carry the emotional crux of the film on their backs. Gerald Olsen has written a smart and wild script, one that subtly crafts a Christmas horror story wrapped inside an incredibly an animated fever dream come to life, which is all enveloped in a dark and dirty tale of abuse and remorse.
A special shout out needs to be given to two more crew members. Bear McCreary composes the perfect score, flexing his chops and showcasing nightmarish peaks and intervals of whacky jingles. Alexis Scott and Joyce Tom are the costumer designer and supervisor and oh boy did they hit a home run. The Pooka should go down in the history books as an iconic horror creation, rubbing shoulders with company like Gizmo and Sam.
Pooka is a blast. It runs the gamut of emotions all while visually capturing the imagination of the viewer in every facet: acting, writing, costuming, score. It’s a success on all fronts and is a must watch for the holiday season.