I love the chutzpah of the Pooka Lives!, the latest installment of Hulu’s anthology series Into the Dark. It’s the series’ first venture into sequel territory, which is one of the few horror tropes the series has yet to cover. Nacho Vigalondo’s Pooka!, a story about a man’s psychotic breakdown, is one of the series’ most memorable entries. It’s not the best Into the Dark, but the image of Pooka, an inexplicably popular toy that looks like the cocaine-addled cousin of Domo, is the stuff of nightmares. Resurrecting the character and letting a new creative team play with it makes a certain amount of sense. The result, Pooka Lives!, is an up-and-down slasher romp about the perils of internet culture.
DIRECTOR: Alejandro Brugues
Pooka, the creepy but super popular toy with murderous tendencies, returns in the first ‘Into the Dark’ sequel.
Similar to the first film, Pooka Lives! follows a down-on-his-luck guy looking for a break and finds one with CSI, the company that produces Pooka toys. Derrick (Malcolm Barrett), has moved from New York to his hometown of Spring Valley, and taken a job as a copywriter with CSI. Derrick’s writing career is on the rocks after his breakthrough, a book about online personalities, brought on a feud with a toxic social media influencer (is there any other kind?). The influencer, a floppy-haired doofus named Jax, teaches Derrick a valuable lesson about the internet: younger people will always beat olds. It’s just the way it is. Just ask any middle-aged white guy casting Twitter stones at AOC.
Compounding matters, Derrick runs up against another ironclad rule of being online: The internet stays undefeated. Derrick’s cover in Spring Valley is immediately blown, so he decides to go after Jax. In a move of desperation, Derrick and his friends concoct a creepypasta, dubbed “The Pooka Challenge,” and send the spooky Pooka story out into the ether. The goal is to embarrass Jax, but they overshoot and accidentally unleash a murderous horde of Pooka dolls. Oops. While Derrick scores a temporary win, the story takes on a life of its own, literally. Each time the ritual is completed, a human-sized Pooka shows up to kill you. Talk about a self-own. With a major milestone for the Pooka toy line coming up, the combination of what’s happening online and what’s about to happen in-store portends high sales and a higher body count.
Pooka Lives! is most successful when it’s at its silliest. That probably goes without saying considering the subject matter, but still. It hits the funny bone early and often. The opening scene gifts the world a murderous Rachel Bloom saying “Pooka and I are one.” We have no choice but to laugh. The first Pooka was constantly unsettling the audience while daring you to take it seriously. It paid off in the end, with a surprisingly touching emotional core (by this series’ standards). This Pooka eschews all seriousness. I appreciate Copple for spinning the story in a different direction. It also opens up different avenues for Pooka to explore if this sequel begets more sequels in future seasons. The malleability of the concept of this creepy toy is the most surprising development in Into the Dark’s run.
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While Barrett is saddled with the bland straight man role, the rest of the cast gets to cut loose. Felicia Day and Jonah Ray play Molly and Matt, the couple who let Derrick crash. They highlight the script’s commitment to humor over everything. Molly takes superstitions seriously, where Matt indulges them because, hey, what else is he gonna do, man? Completing the group of long time friends are Ben (Gavin Stenhouse), the gay and formerly fat friend who has transformed into a gay, hot cop; and Susan (Lyndie Greenwood), who also works for CSI. As a whole, the friends are an ethnically, if not philosophically, diverse group. (Into the Dark is an increasingly representative series.)
Anyway, as the friends battle the onslaught of Pookas, the jokes flow as easily as the blood, and there’s plenty of both. The story kind of plateaus by the third act, and the jokes and violence become more hit or miss. But if you’ve enjoyed yourself to that point, then this isn’t a big deal.
Pooka Lives! features the best joke of the series so far. The premise of Into the Dark is that each film has a holiday theme. Last April’s film was an April Fool’s joint. Rather than repeating that, Pooka Lives! is centered around a complete nonsense holiday that I can’t bring myself to reveal here. But it’s good. Pooka Lives! is mostly amusing, but the best thing about it is the potential for more Pooka stories in the future, and that’s no joke.