By: Kayla Caldwell
Let me just say right off the bat, Into The Dark’s POOKA LIVES is nothing like the original. I must admit, I didn’t quite understand the allure the first time around. However, after watching POOKA LIVES, I can say with certainty that I, too, love Pooka.
This iteration follows Derrick (Malcolm Barrett), a disgraced writer who returns home from New York City to ride out a scandal. He crashes with childhood friends Molly (Felicia Day) and Matt (Jonah Ray), and their quirky teen daughter, who, like her mother, is “weird as f**k.” They both believe in invisible friends, energies, and demonic forces. That will come in handy later.
Derrick gets a job “working for Pooka,” copywriting at the same company where his ex-girlfriend Susan (Lyndie Greenwood) happens to work. Derrick is a bit of an internet pariah at this point, for reasons that will be revealed later. So, one drunken night, frustrated with the internet and its anonymous bullying, he decides to try to make it work for him instead of against him. He and his friends - including Susan - create a mythos around the Pooka Doll.
They write of its creator, Ellis Burgis (Rachel Bloom), who stabbed her husband (Will Wheaton) to death, and then burned herself alive. The group create an instruction manual on how to conjure the spirit of Ellie. Here are the instructions (in summation):
1. Eat ash, to represent the women in Ellie’s family tree who burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials. (Ew. I would already be out.)
2. You must wear a Pooka Mask. (And, of course, it’s creepy AF.)
3. Do the original Pooka dance (from the first movie).
4. Say the spell: “Pooka See, Pooka Do, If You’re bad, He’ll Come For You. With Fuzzy Ears, And Eyes Of Red, You’d Best Behave, Or Else You’re Dead!”
Once you’re finished saying this “Celtic conjuring ritual,” Pooka will come and judge if you are naughty or not. Like an alternate version of Krampus or Belsnickel, this seemingly evil version of Santa Claus then does nothing if you’ve been good. However, if you’ve been naughty, well, then it’s curtains for you.
Much like the “Bloody Mary” challenges of youth, the only thing I can think of when I hear this is, “WHY THOUGH?” It’s one thing to want to try and talk to a spirit. It’s another thing entirely when there is literally no upside… you want to empower a demon that wants to hurt you? I’m flummoxed.
Anyway, people do it, because we’re stupid, and we love a good urban legend. Derrick calls it “Bloody Mary meets the Ice Bucket Challenge,” but it’s more like a weird amalgamation of Child’s Play, The Ring, Ouija, and Slenderman. The thing goes viral, because, as Molly says, “Never underestimate how willing people are to believe in something.”
None of them believed the Pooka story would actually come true, and certainly not in this bizarre, Donnie Darko meets Slenderman nightmare. Pooka is an angry creature, ripping the “naughty” people to shreds. And the more people write about Pooka, and talk about Pooka, the more developed and horrifying the monster becomes. It’s an interesting commentary to have the bad things on the internet actually coming true.
Derrick is at first elated, and then disappointed to realize that it is the most influential thing he’s ever written, and yet no one will ever know it was him. Then things take a violent turn. Molly seems to know best in this scenario, because again, as she said earlier, “That’s an angry spirit you’re messing with.”
This is where it kind of turns into Child’s Play meets Gremlins. It’s delightfully ridiculous, and playfully self-aware. Pooka is a fuzzy, soft, stuffed animal… but also a terrifying grim reaper with blazing, red eyes.
I’m trying my best not to spoil too much here, but I just have to say that at one point in time Pooka wears lederhosen. It’s amazing. There’s also a great camaraderie between the high school friends, that harkens back to beloved films like IT and Stand By Me.
There’s a great commentary on internet bullying, and certain horrible influencers. I won’t name names, but I think we can all guess who the character Jax was based on. This part is personally gratifying, because, having had to write about YouTubers a lot in my career, I’m really not a fan of the entitled young people who are willing to do anything for clicks. Again, I’m sure you know who I am talking about. I'll leave the ending for you to discover yourself. What I will do is promise plenty of fun, action sequences.
Anyway, Derrick is a champ, trying to move forward despite a full force attack on his character. He makes mistakes here and there. He’s clearly human, but he’s trying. I’m not sure how I would hold up under a similar situation. Molly is someone I would love to be friends with. And while Felicia Day doesn’t actually believe in all of the things that Molly loves, she is still an absolute delight to talk to. Check back to see our interview with her about POOKA LIVES.
POOKA LIVES is what we need right now. It’s thrilling, but tongue-in-cheek, playful, but self-aware. You’ll have a great time watching it - especially if you were a fan of Pooka. It’s cheeky enough that it is quarantine-proof, AKA you won’t feel like you need to watch an hour of Friends afterwards, just so you can fall asleep without nightmares.
POOKA LIVES debuts on Hulu on Pooka Day, AKA, Friday, April 3, 2020.
Join Hulu, Blumhouse and the cast and crew of POOKA LIVES for a Twitter watch party on Friday April 3rd! Follow the hashtag #PookaParty and press play on POOKA LIVES at 5:30PM PT | 8:30 PM ET, only on Hulu!
Watch POOKA LIVES Here!
Photos provided by Blumhouse Television / Hulu