[Interview] Director Alejandro Brugués Says He Would Do Another "Pooka" Episode if Given the Chance
Director Alejandro Brugués is a busy man these days...
...Brugués latest film, a shocking segment from Gunpowder & Sky's horror brand Alter and Sam Raimi's 50 States of Fright entitled Destino, recently premiered on the streaming service Quibi. The frightening short about two Floridian cops who come across an ancient evil joins the ever-expanding list of new projects under Brugués' belt, including the most recent episode of Hulu/Blumhouse's Into the Dark anthology series, Pooka Lives, and his popular segment The Thing in the Woods, which appeared in 2019s Nightmare Cinema.
We had the chance to send some questions over to Brugués, discussing what it was like to work with Sam on Destino, the mythology behind the episode, and whether or not we can expect more Pooka in the future!
Killer Horror Critic: Did you choose to set Destino in Florida, or was it more of an assignment basis? If so, what made you want to tell a story set in Florida?
Alejandro Brugués: As far as I can remember, we decided to set the story in Florida. This was done along with Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (one of the directors and the producer of 'The Blair Witch Project'). Both Ed and I are Cubans, and we were working in a story also set around the world of the Afrocuban religions like Santeria. So when we got the call, we decided we wanted to bring the latino element, and since we’re Cubans Florida made more sense, since Miami is the default destination for us when we come here. Besides, where there’s Cubans, there’s Santeria. I think it came out pretty organic.
KHC: Between Nightmare Cinema, ABCs of Death 2 and now 50 States of Fright, you’ve worked a lot in short-form storytelling. Do you prefer this format? What are the challenges of this type of story-telling, and were there any difficulties in presenting Destino this way?
AB: I actually don’t like the short format that much! It’s more the hand I’ve been dealt. Most of my projects, and the scripts I sit down to write, are features. But for whatever reason, those have taken longer to happen, and in the meantime, these are the ones that have moved forward. Which is not to say I’m not proud of the jobs I’ve done in this format! I think some of the best stuff I’ve done it’s been like this. But I always find it restraining. I like scope and a bigger canvas.
It wasn’t a problem because what we set out to do was very straightforward and thought as something short. We planned for this. The script actually was much shorter because we intended to shoot around 12 minutes. Then we learned about the Quibi format, the 5-10 minutes “quick bites”, and decided to do something longer and split it in three. It was the same story beats, but they moved much faster. I had the actors improvise a lot, and the story grew with that. I never showed them the locations before we shot it, so the rehearsal was the first take, and I encouraged them to go nuts and explore and question and comment everything that the locations suggested to them. That expanded the running time, but also the mythology, because they came up with some really good stuff. Plus, some great scares! There are some reactions in there that were for real, because they weren’t expecting some of the things that happened. It was really fun, specially with the main two, Greyston Holt and Danay Garcia. Danay is a really good friend and we’ve been trying to work together for some time, so this was a great way to get to do that AND scare the crap out of her!
"...Basing this in real life, some of the words spoken are from these religions, but mixed with other stuff. The Priest’s chant has some Necronomicon sprinkled in it, which I guess explains a lot of what goes down!"
KHC: Were the occult symbols used in the film original designs, or derived from an already existing source?
AB: They are inspired by real symbols from Palo Mayombe, one of the Afrocuban religions that I mentioned before. It originated in Congo and was brought to Cuba by the slaves in the XIX century, and a lot of people practice them to this day . Like, A LOT. So we showed the designs to the Production Design team, which was amazing, and we told them not to do exactly that (because… you know, who the hell knows what could happen. We don’t want to be channeling real shit in the shoot!) but take them as inspiration. Same with the chamber at the end. The script was grounded in this religion, but the Production Designer interpreted it his way, and when we saw the sketches we were like, Ok, this doesn’t look like one of the real life ceremonies, but it’s fucking awesome, so we’re making this movie now!
But if you look at it, mixed with the symbols are even the 'Blair Witch' sticks. And as I said, the mythology grew up with what the actors brought. So I see it as something that’s grounded in reality but going to a much darker place.
Also, basing this in real life, some of the words spoken are from these religions, but mixed with other stuff. The Priest’s chant has some Necronomicon sprinkled in it, which I guess explains a lot of what goes down!
KHC: What sort of involvement did producer Sam Raimi have in Destino, and what was it like working with him?
AB: Sam’s awesome. This isn’t the only project we have together, and he’s always been great. I’m obviously a huge fan. 'Evil Dead' was the film that made me fall in love with horror forever.
I don’t recall exactly how involved he was. I remember our first script read with the producers, because everyone was reading some of the parts, and for some reason he read Chavez, our Cuban cop female protagonist! And it was hilarious hearing Sam struggle with some of the words when she’s doing her African religion spells. Also, super cool to have Sam reading something you developed! I remember he had some notes and his notes are always great and to the point. But he wasn’t there during the shoot. He was there for some episodes, but he had to travel to LA just as we started.
"I’m not sure if there are plans to continue ('Pooka'). We used to joke about it a lot and when we talked about the ending we’d talk about how a third one would be, but always joking. So I don’t know. If they asked I’d do it in a heartbeat. But 'Pooka' is fucking hard. That suit is hell. Nacho had warned me, but I thought he was exaggerating. He wasn’t."
KHC: You typically write your own original films, so what was it like working with writer Gregg Hale on Destino? Is there anything we see in Destino that perhaps wasn’t on the page initially that you wanted to make sure was included?
AB: This isn’t the first time Gregg and I have worked together. It’s just the first that has made it to the screen. The original script was much shorter. When we got to Vancouver to shoot (for Florida!) we realized how this was going to be split in a couple of “Quibis” and Gregg had the idea of expanding it so we could do three chapters. The script stayed the same, but I relied a lot on him and the 'Blair Witch' experience to ask about how I should go about it, because I hadn’t done found footage before.
I’d say the main beats were on the page, but for instance, Chapter 2 was probably one page or less, because they just went through the hallway. I had the actors improvise and expanded that a lot. And a lot of the mythology beats were ad-libbed too. I knew once we were in that world, since we’re telling it with body cams, if the actors were scared and engaged, the audience would be, too.
KHC: On an unrelated note, what was it like tackling an already established and extremely popular character with Pooka Lives? Are you aware of any plans to keep the Pooka character going, and would you return to do another Pooka episode if possible?
AB: 'Pooka Lives' and 'Destino' overlapped a lot. Gregg had to go to Vancouver and start prepping for me because I was still shooting 'Pooka', and I finished 'Pooka' and they picked me up from the set and took me to the airport and Vancouver to shoot this.
But that wasn’t your question. It’s just that it was a crazy schedule.
'Pooka' was fun! I’m very good friends with Nacho Vigalondo, who directed the first one, and while he was making that one he was showing me designs and shots and things like that, and I saw an early cut. So I was very familiar with that world. When I got offered the movie the first thing I did was call Nacho to get his blessing.
And the good thing about 'Pooka Lives' is that it can be seen as its own thing. You don’t have to watch the original. Basically the only thing in common is Pooka. If you’ve seen the first one this makes sense (I won’t spoil the ending). So I just went in and made it mine. There are some hints to the original here and there, and Nacho and I talked a lot about how he shot 'Pooka', and I tried to do something similar in the first appearances, while it’s still the same Pooka from the first movie. But at some point I start doing my own thing.
I also didn’t think about the popularity of the character. Usually in these cases you just go in and try to do your best, and that’s what I did.
I’m not sure if there are plans to continue. We used to joke about it a lot and when we talked about the ending we’d talk about how a third one would be, but always joking. So I don’t know. If they asked I’d do it in a heartbeat. But 'Pooka' is fucking hard. That suit is hell. Nacho had warned me, but I thought he was exaggerating. He wasn’t.
You can now experience Destino on Quibi.
By Matt Konopka
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