Pooka! (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 21, 2021

PLOT: Struggling actor Wilson Klaus (Nyasha Hatendi) lands a gig in Hollywood portraying the mascot for the hottest new Christmas toy doll in town, Pooka. One problem: the costume is turning Wilson into a malevolent entity he cannot control.

REVIEW: Those familiar with skilled Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo’s superb movies TIMECRIMES and COLOSSAL know what a heady filmmaker he is, often challenging audiences with the use of brain-busting, nonlinear temporality. In his new Christmas laden horror flick POOKA!, which plays as the third chapter in Hulu and Blumhouse TV’s anthological holiday horror series Into the Dark, Vigalondo subtly subverts the timeline once again to gift us with a color-coded, creepily creative cover of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There’s an innocent past, a destructive present, and a portentous future, all of which bleed together in a dreamily surreal, almost Lynchian-like filmic riddle. Up front, this is a vexingly exigent intellectual exercise, but if you’re willing to give it the concentrated attention it deserves, the rewards are sure to pay off as handsomely as that prized gift you’ve got wrapped under your tree. Indeed, at a concise 83 minutes, POOKA!, which translates from Celtic folklore as a ghostly spirit that brings both good and evil, is a smartly conceived and densely encrypted cinematic puzzle piece. If you’re one who enjoys movies that make you think, then Christmas has come early via POOKA!

So tempted am I to try and explain the films nearly impenetrable chain of events, alas, we’ll leave it up to you to solve the overall crux of the plot. Yet, in order to avoid as much confusion as possible, we’ll try to delineate the nonlinear timeline in sequential order. We start with the past (beginning), which finds a lonely aspiring actor named Wilson Klaus (Hatendi) struggling to find work in his new Los Angeles environment. Wilson soon meets and courts a real estate agent named Melanie (the stunning Latarsha Rose), who has a young son named Ty (Johnny Berryman). The two eventually get married and move into the expensive house that Melanie shows Wilson in the beginning of the film. Coy and clever clues are culled throughout the film, such as an October date (pre-Christmas), that inform the viewer which point in the timeline we’re witnessing. POOKA! demands your utmost focus, which is rare for any movie these days, rarer still for horror films, and chief among the reasons the movie is so recommendable.

In the present (middle), while using a monologue from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in his latest audition (itself a key clue), Wilson is surprised to learn he’s trying out to be the official mascot for Pooka, a teddy-bear-like doll that will become the hottest new Christmas toy in town (think a Furby or a Teletubby). Pooka’s novelty is that it can either be naughty or nice, but only Pooka decides which setting it will adhere to from moment to moment. If Pooka is good, its eyes glow blue. If naughty, Pooka’s eyes alight in red. The use of color in the movie is just as vital to the plot as it is vibrant to look at. Pooka can record sentences uttered by its owner, but again, only Pooka gets to decide what to record and when. Therefore, the toy is wildly unpredictable. As alluded to above, the Irish myth of Pooka (Puca) is generally depicted as taking the form of a large hare, which is what the doll resembles in the movie. As Wilson’s fame and fortune increases, he begins losing his grip on reality. He begins drinking angrily and lashing out violently. Wilson attends Ty’s birthday party in the Pooka costume, manifesting his darkest side by hitting a child who was in throes of teasing Ty.

As Wilson descends into madness, the future (end) adumbrates what will happen if he continues his selfishly destructive tendencies. When the Pooka doll is recalled due to a malfunction, the movie is now operating almost entirely on a metaphoric level relating to Wilson’s own inner-demons. A subplot involving Wilson’s alcoholic next door neighbor, the ominously named Red (Dale Dickey), hurls and spins to a 360 degree fulcrum that ends with the very shot that opens the movie. It’s an admirably labyrinthine structure that Vigalondo uses to keep the audience off-guard by simultaneously pulling us to the edge of the seat while keeping us on our heels. Just like in A Christmas Carol, Wilson is afforded the opportunity to see his future, and avoid it by changing his malevolent and miserly ways. We won’t betray exactly how, but credit is surely due to screenwriter/executive producer Gerald Olson for attempting to stitch together such an ambitiously twisty yarn, and the wisdom to know Vigalondo was the right man to tie it all together onscreen. Granted, the movie probably requires at least a second viewing to square away all of the loose ends, as it is a bit of a chore to follow the first time through, but we know that like in life (a sub-theme of the movie itself), the more you put into a movie the more you’re bound to get out of it. In that regard, POOKA! is a priceless Christmastime present with great replay value.

Following THE BODY (Halloween) and FLESH & BLOOD (Thanksgiving), POOKA! is the undeniable best episode of Hulu’s Into the Dark thus far. Where first two films struggled to stretch its gaunt holiday conceits to a satisfying 90 minute feature, Vigalondo has trimmed away all the tinsel-wrapped frills and delivered in POOKA! a densely packaged gift of severe psychological unrest. No, not just in the catchy jingle that rivals Barney’s “I Love You,” one that will surely get stuck in your head for days, but in the smartly conceived winding wickedness that challenges your brain as much as it charges your heart. If Dickens met DONNIE DARKO and DEAD END, the result might resemble POOKA!

Pooka! (Movie Review)


Source: AITH

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie.