If you’ve never found anything unnerving about a stuffed animal or a person dressed up as one, it’s possible you’ve never A) talked to a Furby, B) watched Teletubbies, Boohbah, or even Barney, or C) seen Pooka! which is Nacho Vigalondo’s contribution Into The Dark, Hulu’s two-season (thus far) run of holiday-related horror movies.
It’s a super-watchable series–I’m quite fond. Likely it will comprise a list of some kind in the not too distant future. Not every film hits the bullseye, but I have yet to watch one and regret it.
Pooka’s main character is Wilson, an out-of-work actor looking to make a fresh start. He lands a gig as a costumed character that’s part of a toy marketing campaign. The toy is a stuffed animal named, naturally, Pooka.
Like a Furby, Pooka records what you say and says it back to you. Unlike a Furby, it records randomly and speaks in a randomly chosen Naughty or Nice voice. All of this is explained by Finn, a marketing exec for the manufacturer.
How can I describe Pooka? Hard to say. Muppet gone wrong? Teddy bear as a Dr. Who villain? The thing has Snuffleuppagus-like fur, vaguely Furbyish facical features, and freakazoidonal headlight eyes that glow blue (Nice) or red (Naughty). The stuffed animal version is kinda ugly-cute, no worse than, say, the critters in Where The Wild Things Are. The lifesize version…let’s just say it gives one pause, and the Naughty voice is menacing.
Wilson is befriended by his next door neighbor, a boozy older woman named Red. He soon becomes romantically involved with Melanie, and makes efforts to win over her son, Ty. Off to a fine start.
Okay, let’s talk about the director. Vigalondo’s been around a minute. My first glimpse was “Parallel Monsters” in V/H/S: Viral. I went from there right to TImecrimes. He also brought us Colossal, “A Is For Apocalypse” in The ABC’s Of Death, just to mention a few.
If you haven’t watched yet, this is a good place to stop reading.
Pooka! is yet another movie that holds up to multiple viewings and is definitely more fun the second time around. I suggest watching once just to see where Vigalondo is going, then watching again with an eye toward “A Christmas Carol.” Specifically, combine Melanie and Red as The Ghost Of Christmas Past (makes so much sense at the end), make Finn The Ghost Of Christmas Present, and make Pooka The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come.
It’s not seamless, but it will mess with your head. The big differences are there is no redemption, nobody is saved, and the end is just bleak/dark/sad. You’ve been warned. And like he does in Timecrimes, Vigalondo manages to provide a number of vaguely related details that connect very suddenly. You might see it coming, but I assure you, it doesn’t matter. Bits and pieces of dialogue also act as key moments of foreshadowing.
These come especially from Finn and become downright prophetic:
“Buddy, your life is about to change forever” (repeated in Naughty voice)
“Buddy, I want you to be him”
“It’s about trust”
“Wilson, this is all you. One Pooka. One you. This is a dream”
“It’s just you. It’s always been just you”
There are other such statements from both Red and Wilson as well, and even a sign outside a christmas tree lot that says, “It’s Pooka time,” and good lord n’ butter, is it ever.
It’s not long before the costume becomes the focal point of Wilson’s psyche, and he takes to wandering around in it. This strikes nobody as particularly unusual–I mean, take a walk through Times Square. He becomes increasingly unable to function or even breathe outside of it, to the point that it even becomes connected to his sexual fantasies. I wonder if Vigalondo has read Kobo Abe’s The Box Man.
Fun fact, Pooka, it turns out, is also an alternate spelling of Púca, meaning “ghost or spirit.” These furry, shapeshifting beings of Celtic folklore are bringers of fortune, good as well as bad. Worth keeping in mind. Oh and watch out for the Pooka song. It’s gonna get stuck in your head.
I’m humming it right now.
And remember kids, “You never know what Pooka will do.”