“Into the Dark” creates a new Christmas tradition with its disturbing, cuddly take on split personalities and the nature of good and evil in “Pooka!”

“They can be a little unpredictable…”

The duality of man and our struggle to be good or evil is a classic theme to explore in storytelling, especially in something like horror where normal people transforming into monsters has been a staple of the genre since its earliest days. However, this is a theme that’s especially relevant to Christmas. This is, after all, a holiday where some shady all-knowing figure makes a sprawling list that keeps tabs on who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Christmas has so many flashier signifiers that it’s easy to forget about this component of the holiday, which is what makes it such an inspired focus for this story.

With Christmas as Into the Dark’s designated holiday this time around, it’s frankly better that “Pooka!” doesn’t go the killer Santa route, as not only is it the obvious (and laziest) choice, but it’s been done to death at this point, too. Another factor in “Pooka!’s” favor is that the incredible Nacho Vigalondo is the director on board for this episode. Vigalondo never disappoints, whether it’s with Timecrimes, his VHS: Viral segment, “Parallel Monsters,” or his most mainstream (but still extraordinarily weird) feature, Colossal. “Pooka!” feels like it pulls from Colossal most out of Vigalondo’s previous works (although there is a hint of Timecrimes in its final act), but this is still incredibly different, even if they both do deal with people’s attempts to come to terms with the fact that they’re a monster.

“Pooka!” tells the story of a struggling actor (Nyasha Hatendi) who thinks he finally catches his big break when he nails the gig of Pooka, the holiday’s next big toy sensation. A professionally trained actor, Wilson is initially skeptical of his new job, but the company behind Pooka stresses that they don’t just want a man in a suit, they want him to be Pooka and bring this idea to life. Wilson really takes to the role, but the more time he spends in the costume as this character, the more he feels himself begin to slip and lose track of who he is. He starts to feel that Pooka is gaining a personality of his own; one that takes control of him and he’s increasingly helpless against. The whole novelty of the Pooka toy is that it has an unpredictable “naughty or nice” feature and it’s this classic Jekyll/Hyde dichotomy that begins to plague Wilson.

Vigalondo works hard to make Wilson stand out and connect with the audience early on. He’s immediately a sympathetic character and the installment painstakingly depicts his dedication to his craft and that he’s actually a talented actor. This makes it all the more depressing to see Wilson put his soul into intricate monologues and then end up in a glorified mascot costume for the holiday season. Vigalondo also isn’t afraid to let surrealness invade the story and there are frequent moments that become quite absurd, but it’s always done in favor of alienating Wilson and not just to get a cheap laugh. This feeling of not understanding what’s going on is part of the experience and Jon Daly really sells that dynamic as the person on the corporate side of all things Pooka.

“Pooka!” excels with its character work and it helps establish Wilson as a loner. He’s often isolated and his careful, little life is clear right from the start of the story. “It can be dangerous to be alone,” he’s told by his neighbor, yet the company he eventually finds isn’t exactly of the conventional nature. However, there’s also a subtle sense of dread that’s present from the beginning of the story and begins to swell and grow as more of Wilson’s life is shown.

Outside of Wilson’s Pooka-based responsibilities, he finds himself becoming smitten over Melanie, a single mother and real estate agent. The two have great chemistry and Melanie becomes Wilson’s source of joy, but it doesn’t take long for Pooka to become jealous over Wilson’s new fascination. Throughout “Pooka!”, Wilson’s furry alter ego continues to try to tear down his support systems and leave him alone and defenseless. Melanie and her son are so innocent through all of this and it’s difficult to see them get caught in the crossfire of this.

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Author : Daniel Kurland

Publish date : 2018-12-06 23:24:25