[Review] 'Into the Dark: Pooka Lives' is an Entertaining Throwback to Midnight Monster Movies!
“Pooka see, Pooka do, if you’re bad he’ll come for you, with fuzzy ears and eyes of red, you best behave, or else you’re DEAD…”
...These are the lyrics that define the return of Hulu and Blumhouse’s most popular character from their Into the Dark anthology horror series, Pooka. The over-sized, bug-eyed riff on Furbies first appeared in 2018’s December episode, Pooka!, and is back in Pooka Lives, which is the 2.0 version of the character in every way possible: this rendition of Pooka is meaner, scarier, and will get you laughing more than those damn Tickle Me Elmo dolls giggle.
Directed by Alejandro Brugues (Juan of the Dead) and written by Ryan Copple, Pooka Lives basically ignores the first entry and creates its own story, this time centered around a failed novelist named Derek (Malcolm Barrett), who has been forced to move back to his hometown after an internet troll and his vicious fanbase ruin Derek’s life in New York. Back home and staying with superstitious friend Molly (Felicia Day) and her boneheaded husband, Matt (Jonah Ray), Derek has taken a job as a copywriter at the company that produces Pooka, working alongside his ex-girlfriend, Susan (Lyndie Greenwood). But when the group, plus hot friend (as everyone calls him) and cop Benny (Gavin Stenhouse), decide to prank the internet world which has destroyed Derek by making up the #PookaChallenge, they unwittingly unleash a deadly internet sensation.
If you were a fan of Pooka!, the first thing you ought to know is that Pooka Lives Is a whole other animal. Whereas Pooka! was more psychological terror which followed one man’s descent into madness, Pooka Lives is the monster movie version of Candyman, stuffed with all of the gore, mayhem and practical creature FX of a midnight feature.
See, Derek is a bit of an asshole, in the sense that, despite all of the cruel mentions on the internet and the occasional stalker defacing his car, he craves the attention. So, it’s no wonder that as part of his plan to “get back” at the influencers of the world (by getting a challenge trending that forces them to eat ash, I guess), the crux of his plan is that he must, in fact, invent something popular, and therefore, get all of the attention he wants, even if he can’t take credit for it. Problem is, Derek and his friends don’t expect Pooka to take on a life of its own, transforming into something more and more monstrous as the story spreads and has new details added to it.
Pooka Lives, like the films it takes inspiration from, is through and through a throwback to horror sequels like Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives, upping every little detail to the max. The deaths are gorier and sillier, including a few that are deliciously satisfying. Unlike the more somber tone of the first film, Pooka Lives pushes the over the top meter to 11, refusing to take itself seriously and instead delivering joke after winking nod after outlandish scare. All throughout, composer Kyle Newmaster’s score resonates like a 50s sci-fi B-horror flick, giving Pooka Lives that perfectly corny vibe that calls back to marathoning bad monster movies on Saturday mornings. Think of it like an episode of producer Felicia Day’s The Guild, if those characters had had to face one of the creatures from their gaming quests in real life. Pooka Lives is far more focused on entertaining than anything, and the cringe-worthy one-liners run more rampant than in an 80s Schwarzenegger film.
Those of you that enjoyed the original Pooka’s more psychological tone might be disappointed by this, but for those willing to just sit back and have a good time, Pooka Lives is a riot. Outside of Derek and his issue of seeing himself as “better” than others, even going as far as making the mistake of telling Susan that the town is full of nobodies, Pooka Lives doesn’t get very deep with these characters, a far cry from the personal story of Pooka!. But it doesn’t have to. All of them are entertaining in one way or another (when the forced jokes aren’t making you wince), and Pooka would have had to crush your soul for you to not have any fun with them.
Speaking of Pooka crushing souls, I’ve already mentioned it a few times but it needs to be said again: Pooka is TERRIFYING this time around. When Pooka first manifests, it’s the goofy, lumpy rabbit-thing we all know well. But as new stories on the internet continue to give it life, Pooka evolves, sprouting wicked claws, drooling fangs, and eventually becoming the lanky horror version of a wookie. The jokes are more miss than hit, and Pooka Lives takes itself about as seriously as a toddler, but when Brugues wants the film to feel horrific, you damn well better believe you’re going to be thanking all that is holy you’ll never have to face Pooka in real life. Pooka Lives is most effective when it’s trying to scare you, complete with 80s inspired stylized red lighting and an abundance of spooky fog, and that’s all you can ask for from a sequel segment in a horror anthology.
And it isn’t as if Pooka Lives has nothing to say, either. We live in a toxic world of internet bullying, mass hysteria and blind reaction to whatever some stranger on the web tells us to do or think, and Copple’s script is an intelligent commentary on that very insanity. Derek doesn’t start off perfect, but he also doesn’t deserve to have his life ruined because he said one bad thing about an influencer. And just look at the consequences! In real life, we may not unleash killer internet demons, but our words matter, and they can grow like a harmful wildfire, especially when they’re targeted at someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Moral of the story, kids: don’t be an internet bully, and don’t do dumb trending challenges just because someone else is, unless you want a vicious Furby to destroy your ass.
Pooka Lives rises from the internet wasteland on Hulu April 3rd.
By Matt Konopka
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