The third episode/movie of Into the Dark (episodes one and two were previously reviewed) introduces us to Pooka in “Pooka!”, where lines are blurred and personalities slip from their owners. Nyasha Hatendi stars as Wilson, an actor without a lot of prospects who finds a peculiar job as the mascot known as Pooka. With a neighbor friend and a woman in his life, Wilson’s life finally starts coming together until some horrible and violent events occur to both him and those around him. Not everything is as it seems, and soon the unraveling could lead to something bigger.
The director, Nacho Vigalondo, is no stranger to double lives told through an avatar, such as in his film Colossus, cleverly emulating similar themes of becoming someone (or something) else, what it does to the mind, and where one person ends and another begins. The other person, in this case, is Pooka the giant fur creature, a fun family creation for the holidays to drum up toy sales. The psychological angle and Hatendi’s performance match really well, where his fearful and unhinged nature as the episode progresses is greatly compelling and the major highlight beyond the presentation.
The visual style of the episode is gorgeous and vibrant, with excellent use of color (especially blue and red hues signifying different emotions and psychological moments), and striking imagery involving the Pooka suit. One shot in particular involving Wilson lifting a sheet up to see what was underneath was inspired and creepy. Some patterned, repeated scenes with different circumstances, too, find a good way to tell through visual storytelling a tone of uncertainty and signs of madness. Normally a costume standing in a hallway would fall into comical territory; here, it is an unnerving source. The score by Bear McCreary is fairly memorable, a strange mixture of deep, guttural choir and emotional stretches to really enhance the episode.
But for all its good, the episode does find some coldness in its characters. There’s an almost arm’s-length approach to how its characters are portrayed, some on purpose, others by accident. It’s rare in “Pooka!” where we gain much in the way of caring for these characters, as they function more as story than as true characters. The performers do well, but given a little more to work with, they could have achieved more. And for as wild as the third act is, it doesn’t quite leave the intended impact.
Into the Dark finds its best episode so far in “Pooka!”, full of memorable sights and a complex ending. While it may falter in adding layers beyond its story, it does make up for it in its direction and lead performance.
Into the Dark: “Pooka!” is available on Hulu on December 7th.