With the April entry Pooka Lives, Hulu serves up the first sequel in their monthly horror feature series Into the Dark. It’s a comic and frenzied monster adventure with some eerie moments.
Remember, this is from Blumhouse, and Blumhouse knows how to deliver horror tropes in interesting ways. As a plus, it’s directed by Juan of the Dead’s Alejandro Brugués. Pooka! (2018) featured Nyasha Hatendi as an actor slowly developing a split-personality when hired to don a costume matching a toymaker’s hot new Christmas toy, Pooka. Think sort of a big bear with owlish eyes and ears. That installment turned out to be a surprisingly poignant depiction of a man’s downward spiral, even though its structure might not have surprised a lot of horror fans.
Pooka Lives fairly effectively brings back the toy and accompanying mascot suit with social media and cancel-culture themes. Malcolm Barrett (Preacher, Timeless) plays Derrick, a writer who’s run afoul of a powerful social media prankster and seen his life’s work destroyed. Barraged by insults on all social platforms, he heads to his small hometown of Spring Valley. The plan is to stay with friends Molly and Matt (MST3K alumi Felicia Day and Jonah Ray). She’s into crystals and spirituality. He’s a skeptic who likes football.
Derrick’s found work in public relations at the Pooka manufacturer. Also employed there is the girl he left behind, Susan (Lyndie Greenwood) allowing for romance and friction.
On a lark, Barrett and friends devise a ritualistic taste-challenge. It is inspired by the local woman who invented Pooka then donned a Pooka mask to murder her husband (Wil Wheaton in a cameo). It’s a blend of Bloody Mary and the ice-bucket challenge, as Derrick puts it. A poetic explanation promises that if you’re bad, Pooka will come for you.
The challenge is just wacky enough to grow as viral and accepted as Slenderman, and it incorporates just enough magic and spiritual energy to work. When everybody seizes on it as the new craze, Pooka indeed starts appearing. A plus: lots of great Pooka fan art with an authentic folklore feel.
As a series of slasher-level set pieces are touched off, the gang soon realizes something cataclysmic is coming on Pooka Day. That’s the planned launch of a Pooka variation.
Said set pieces are maybe the strongest elements. They’re nicely staged, and good use is made of the glowing Pooka eyes and variations on the furry Pooka form, bolstered by the various artistic renderings. We get some surprisingly creepy moments since we’ve already had a good look at Pooka. The evil variations exploit the most disturbing aspects of the mascot suit to tickle our imaginations.
The viral and social media aspects make for interesting subtext, and it’s great to have The Guild’s Day on hand as the purveyor of exposition and explanations that counter skepticism and disbelief. She’s also up for some monster fightin’.
The film’s monster aspects outweigh the comedy, in fact. More than anything the great casting and humor help make the experiences just a little different and offbeat.
Derrick’s downfall provides interesting back-story for the character. It’s a bit unfortunate we never get quite the level of tragic soul-revelation that came in the original film. That might have added moving texture to the mix.
Set expectation to TV-movie with extra flare, and you should appreciate this piece on its merits.
Wicked Rating: 7/10
Director: Alejandro Brugués
Writer: Ryan Copple
Starring: Malcom Barrett, Lyndie Greenwood, Felicia Day, Jonah Ray, Gavin Stenhouse, Wil Wheaton.
Release: April 3, 2020 (Hulu)
Runtime: 80 minutes