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Into the Dark - Pooka - Review: Pooka Me, Pooka You + POLL



WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.


Look at all the pretty lights. - Or flames. We open this episode with a creepy visual of a discarded plush toy laying amidst burning wreckage on a road. We don't see this stuffed animal's face but I'm instantly imbibed with a chill, I'm guessing this toy is "Pooka". A disembodied voice echoes in a creepy whisper as an overlay of flashing red and blue lights instills the visual of police cars. A man lingers in the shadows, face captured by the neon prism of color.

Then we leave the scene behind and the same man is sitting, looking rather stoic with a million yard stare, on a couch in a ramshackle living room. The only source of light now is a couple of dimly lit lamps. From this one cut, I'm imagining this man was or is running from what happened in that opening flashback. There are moving boxes in the room.

He hears some music coming from outside of his apartment. Room 7F has a mysterious red glow seeping out from beneath the doorway (A darkroom? A grow room? Something much stranger?). This appears to be a common practice. The man retreats and we cut to a new day.

The man, Wilson (Nyasha Hatendi), embarks on a seemingly ordinary, unremarkable day. The bus he boards is empty, a familiar Christmas song plays overhead. The cafe is decorated. 'Tis the season but Wilson has yet to look anything other than haunted.

Our first spoken dialogue comes from a few cafe patrons who ask Wilson to take a photo of them. "Merry Christmas's" are exchanged. It's as unassuming a cafe as one can expect, complete with a community cork-board. Wilson takes interest in an "Actor Wanted" flyer.


Afterwards, when he returns to his apartment building he's locked himself out and must buzz his neighbor, the one in the red glow, to get back inside. Turns out, Wilson is new the apartment, he's starting over, seeking a "blank slate". He introduces himself to the woman in apartment in 7F. She's an eccentric woman who goes by the name "Red" (Dale Dickey). Turns out, they're both actors, but Red laments her time has passed, not Wilson's though. She gets suddenly serious as she tells him she has a feeling his moment is still to come.

Perhaps Red's musings got to Wilson because he takes the flyer from the cafe and rehearses his audition monologue for an upcoming showing of "A Christmas Carol". Except, when he gets to the audition, the auditioner cuts him off within seconds of beginning. She's curt and frank, offers no semblance of empathy or indication of whether or not Wilson did something wrong.

As someone who has been on countless auditions, it really is crazy how the tiniest things can make or break you and usually it's completely out of your control.

The audition quickly spirals into something strange and unorthodox as Wilson is instructed to do several motions with his arms, amounting to a fast-paced dance of sorts that is watched and dictated by a man up in the balcony. Wilson must have done something right because the man books him within seconds of this odd routine. "Send everyone else home."

Wilson is then brought into a different room where the scariest stuffed animal I've ever seen is placed on the table between them. This must be the eponymous "Pooka" with its hideous orb-like eyes and mail slot of a mouth.

I'm guessing Wilson wasn't exactly auditioning for Scrooge after all.

"So, this is Pooka. What do you think?" I think run because that thing could give Chucky a run for his money. This doll looks like it crawled straight out of an episode of Black Mirror.

Not only does Pooka look like an escapee from Satan's toy shop, it records and repeats things people say at random and it has a naughty or nice feature - except no one can control any of this. Pooka does.

This smarmy business exec wants Wilson to be Pooka. As in, they have a full-grown man-size Pooka costume in the basement he's instructed to "bring to life". Except, after he tries the costume in he collapses in a coughing fit. Methinks this costume wants to become one in a decidedly sinister way. Don't be tempted by the dollar signs Wilson and get out now! Where there's a synthetic horror show of a toy costume there's usually... well fire, if the flash-forward that opened the episode was any indication.

Wilson signs his name on the dotted line and becomes the official actor for the Pooka brand. At home, he tries the costume again, or does he? We see Wilson slip into the Pooka suit and destroy his home, seems his switch is on naughty, but then - Wilson enters the door and sees the mess. The suit is laying on his bed exactly where he left it and he assumes his apartment has been burglarized. So did the suit come to life of its own volition or was Wilson possessed whilst inside of it and has no recollection of what he did? Either way, clearly there is something evil about Pooka.

We next see Wilson skulking around a Christmas tree yard, watching a woman through the aisles. Followed by a scene with the other woman in his life, Red, who he has become quite close to it appears. He assists her in setting up a tree in her home for the days when he isn't there so she's not so lonely, but what did Wilson leave behind? Between the popcorn strands and tinsel, something ominous lurks as the lights flicker and we hear screams emanating from within. Red looks on in concern.

At a "Pooka Pop-Up" store (yes Pookas are selling like hotcakes as anticipated), Wilson sees the woman from the Christmas tree yard. After some wing-manning from his boss, he gets her business card and learns she's a real estate agent named Melanie Burns.

After some light online stalking (Pooka stalks too...), Wilson gets to meet Melanie at an open house and they have an instant bond. Wilson is over the moon as he gushes to Red about his new crush. But he gets interrupted by a mysterious pounding sound coming from his apartment. Checking it out leads to another terrifying vision of the Pooka costume coming to life and Wilson is left a sweaty, frightened mess. His hands, which he lifts in front of his face (together like a triangle), are a bloodied mess. His answer to hiding the gore is to wear gloves on his date with Melanie, "I burnt my hands on a pot of spaghetti." Sure you did.

The date ends on a positive note, Wilson and Melanie share a kiss. Then we get the disturbing visual of full-size Pooka furiously masturbating in a hallway lit by Christmas lights. What. The. Hell. Pooka-Wilson's eyes are blue this time so I guess he's being...er...nice? At this point I'm assuming Pooka-Wilson is really an extension of Wilson, the smarmy business exec did say at the beginning Wilson was being tasked with becoming one with the toy after all and truly bringing it to life. Doesn't stop the idea of a furry mascot jacking off amidst holiday decor from being any less disturbing.

Other than that, things are progressing nicely between the new couple, except one strange moment where Melanie says she never went to the Christmas tree lot, so who did Wilson see or is she lying? And if so, why? Wilson even manages to score a Pooka toy for Melanie's son.

In a neat parallel of the beginning of the episode, we see Wilson reliving his grinding daily routine - bus, cafe, walk home, elevator to his apart - all whilst wearing the Pooka soon and that sonorous humming buzz of an instrumental plays in the background. Seriously though, Pooka's score gets under my skin, it's well-crafted for building suspense.

Then the moment that's been alluded to all episode finally comes to fruition. Pooka's eyes glow red, he's in naughty mode, and headed towards Red's apartment, basking in the red glow. This is no Coen brothers film, Into the Dark doesn't do subtly well but it doesn't really need to for what it is.

Except, Red isn't dead. When Wilson steps into her apartment the next morning she's right as rain. Whatever happened last night was happening in Pooka-Wilson's head, it would appear.



Wilson has begun bonding slowly with Melanie's son, Ty (Jonny Berryman), and offers to let Ty meet Pooka at his Pooka-themed birthday party. Except, another nightmarish sequence begins with a distorted voice coming from Ty asking if he's going to hurt him or his mother. Wilson awakens on the couch with the same red and blue lights from the opening flashing across the windows. Then an egg, or mannequin head? - bursts open, blood soaking the floor and a demonic, burning, monstrosity of a Pooka rises up with demonic laughter echoing in the background.

Just as quickly, it's over and Wilson looks distraught at Ty's birthday party. An innocent arrangement of Pooka party hats and cutlery on the table beside him.

After another strange interlude of Wilson watching his Pooka costume dance around without him, we see the party again, Pooka has arrived. Afterwards, Ty is being bullied by one of the kids. Not for long as Pooka steps in and attacks the child. This time, it actually happens as Ty is traumatized by what he thinks he saw and Melanie has questions about the suit. She wants to know who was in the suit. Wilson is cagey in his responses, after all, he signed an anonymity clause and is pretending he wasn't there - for all we know, he really wasn't and Pooka is acting of its own free will.

Regardless, Wilson loses his temper and screams at Melanie, clearly startling her. She wants him out of the house and I can't say I blame her.

Remember the beginning of the episode when Wilson started suffocating in the mask? Well now he's suffocating without it and only finding relief when he puts it on. Uh-oh.

Outside of Wilson's life, Pookas are malfunctioning all over the country. There is a pretty hilarious news segment where people are reacting with mob violence towards the furry creatures, stomping them into the cement, and other cartoonish antics.

Due to the recall, Wilson's services are no longer needed which means he has to give thee suit back. But he'll die without it, or at least feels he will, "I need to be inside it." A super weird line to deliver with a straight face, but Nyasha Hatendi's performance and willfulness to truly believe in the absurdity created here really helps make this episode all the more entertaining.

Then things tip even further into the absurd, if that were even possible, when Wilson goes to visit Melanie at her open house and she runs away screaming. Just in time for Wilson to see the damned Christmas tree in the corner, oozing blood, followed by him walking in on Pooka...having sex...with something. Melanie...? It was honestly hard to tell because of the lighting but he is absolutely humping something on that mattress before looking up at Wilson, extra bug-eyed and drooling blood.

Wilson, coming apart at the seams, returns home, hoping to talk to Red but she's on the same plane of crazy as him. Her head as been bashed in and she simply tells Wilson, "It's time for you to go." Sending him running out the door and into a basement facility housing Pooka toys, chased by the creature itself whilst in the midst of his mental breakdown.


Cut to, Wilson on his bed, Pooka mask and paws on, calling Melanie. All I could think about is, how did he dial those numbers with paws on? But then we pan out, and he's Pooka-Wilson all the way, talking to Melanie about being a better man while a bunch of children quietly chant "Pooka" and he sits on a throne in a toy shop with Christmas trees all around. Pooka me, Pooka you, indeed. The realities of madness over a toy and a man's broken psyche seem to have truly melded. That, coupled with the absurdist story and frequent B-movie, camp cult elements of the episode make for a very entertaining outing altogether.

Melanie receive a package from Wilson, a Pooka doll repeating the very voicemail he left her while across the street she watches Pooka-Wilson get into a fight with some pedestrians who rip off his Pooka-head and take it with them. "No, that's me! That's me!" He shouts after them in anguish.

Well I assume they are never getting back together after Melanie witnessed that.


Wilson then wanders past the now-defunct Pooka factory which is in shambles, "FUCK POOKA" spray-painted on the walls and the bedraggled toy bodies discard in front of the doors. He heads to the bar and the exec that put him on this path to begin with reminds him Pooka doesn't exist, "only you" Pooka was just a design to sell toys.

Wilson looks dazed and confused and heads home.

Come to find out, Red really is dead. She's on the ground under a tarp when Wilson arrives back to the complex. He heads to her apartment and another incarnation of Pooka with burning flames where his eyes once were, advances on him, ripping a picture of Melanie and Ty up before him as Wilson looks on in horror.

Well of course, this all culminates in a final showdown at the Christmas tree lot.

Side-note: This entire episode felt a little like a homage to the The Shining, not sure if it was intended or I'm seeing things but the long hallway shots, the manifestation of Wilson's madness through Pooka - a version of Jack's own madness, and then the final battle taking place in a maze of trees? Maybe it's a stretch.

Finally, Wilson overpowers Pooka and strangles him with Christmas tree lights, which is totally what I always feel like doing to the past version of me who never puts them away properly and has to untangle them every year, and tells the head - flames now extinguished - "you're not going to hurt anyone, anymore." Pooka? Or convincing yourself of that, eh Wilson?

He thinks now he can be with Mel, except she's not home, it doesn't look like she even lives there anymore and when he calls her the phone is disconnected.

When he finally finds her, at the open house they met in at the beginning, the final reveal is shown. It was all dream! A slightly disappointing end, although I admit I didn't expect them to go this route.


Wilson is Ty's father, he and Melanie had a huge fight that culminated in Wilson speeding them to the Christmas tree lot to replace the one he destroyed in his rage. They get into a huge car accident (the one this episode opened with) and the driver of the car they hit is none other than Red, who dies shortly after impact. Mel is the one who was saying "Look at all the pretty lights" which the Pooka doll Ty was holding, repeats like a broken record after flying out of the wreckage. The business executive from his dream, is the EMT who checks him out as he lays in the road blown from the crash.

It's a neat reveal and if you were to go back through the episode I'm sure it would be fun to find all the hints and clues, namely the ones about Ty's father that kept cropping up throughout.

Overall, the episode leaves some to be desired, I'm not sure the ending is exactly what I was expecting although I appreciated the allusions, in-jokes, winks, and nods throughout. The fact Wilson was auditioning for "A Christmas Carol" and then it turns out, was haunting himself in a way, a ghost of all his past mistakes that lead to this awful catastrophe, was a clever addition. Also, the sexual aspects - the masturbation scene and Pooka's having sex with Melanie (possibly still not totally confirmed) were unnecessary and took me out of the moment. I don't mind sex with my horror but they just felt... off in this, I think they were going for camp but they pulled off campiness just fine in many other moments that they didn't need those few.

Still, this is my favorite of the three Into the Dark episodes so far. I found it engrossing and very entertaining from beginning to end, and certainly creepy as all get out in several parts. Pooka is an extremely frightening creation, on screen or off (god forbid the marketing team gets any ideas).

EXTRAS


Strangest New Dance Move: Raise your arms up, together like a triangle, out like an offering, fly like a plane!

Scariest Toy Jingle: Pooka see, Pooka do, Pooka me, Pooka you, you never know what Pooka will do. Pooka loves, Pooka fights, Pooka laughs, Pooka cries, you never know what Pooka will do.

Pooka VS Furby: I think Pooka would win in this fight but what do you guys think?

Funniest Line: "Yeah, I got my money back. But what about my time!?"

Does Christmas Ever End in LA? It seems like a LOT happened in the month of December, including Wilson becoming part of Melanie's family in a few weeks? Unless this was meant to be more than once Christmas but, still.

A BRAND NEW EPISODE OF "INTO THE DARK" WILL DEBUT ON JAN. 4TH ONLY ON HULU.



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