I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
INTO THE DARK: SEASON 2 – EPISODE 7
In 2018, Blumhouse Productions and Hulu announced an exciting business partnership that would significantly benefit horror fans thirsty for creative outings. Jason Blum’s successful company, responsible for such profitable works as the Paranormal Activity franchise and the Oscar-winning Get Out, would produce a new horror film each month for Hulu subscribers as part of an anthology series called Into the Dark. The olive in the bloody cocktail is that these feature-length episodes would be based on holidays or popular events pertaining to the month of its release. And, as any genre fan knows, some of the best horror titles have stemmed from seasonal celebrations.
Naturally, with it being April, there are only two major options to pick from this year: April Fool’s Day and Easter. This month’s chapter of Into the Dark, titled “Pooka Lives!,” is a combination of both. Following up 2018’s Christmas-themed “Pooka!,” the creepypasta sequel features a rabbit-masked killer and many tense situations that are mistaken as pranks. What rockets this beyond an average bloodfest are how it captures the scary realities of the internet age and uses the lens of horror to provide insightful commentary.
Directed by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead) and written by Ryan Copple (Riese TV miniseries), “Pooka Lives!” opens with a bit of an origin story of how the beloved children’s toy, Pooka, came to be. For those unfamiliar, the first film centered on a product company’s mascot having a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde episode when it came to putting on and taking off the plush suit.
Now, everything has evolved. The popularity of the toy’s big red eyes and Chucky-like qualities of repeating back certain words has led to it having its own honorary day. That’s right. Get ready to celebrate Pooka Day as a group of 30-somethings (Malcolm Barrett, Lyndie Greenwood, Felicia Day, Jonah Ray, and Gavin Stenhouse) unleash some evil.
In the film, the friends create the #PookaChallenge, which goes viral and takes the titular figure to the mainstream in a bloody massive way. So much so that the internet sensation takes on a life of its own, conjuring up multiple versions of Pooka into the real world. And just like that, the bodies start hitting the deck.
An ongoing issue with the Into the Dark series has been how often they wear out their welcome. Many feel like they would have functioned better as hour-long episodes rather than 80-minute ones. With “Pooka Lives!,” on the other hand, most of the contents within its run time are essential to the story, such as character development, various backstories, mythology growth and (of course) wracking up the kill count.
One of the strongest elements is the characters. It begins with old friends coming together when one of them (Barret of Dear White People) has been facing backlash for a book he wrote. Internet mobs have put a target on his back. He can’t seem to get through a day without someone snapping a photo of his “boring” life or having his car vandalized. At one moment in the film, an online creep spray paints “you sux!” on his car. He comically replies: “If you’re going to insult me, at least use proper grammar. I’m a writer.”
That leads to the film’s humor. There are many wryly self-aware jabs made throughout that spice up the batter, most of which come from Jonah Ray and Felicia Day’s wisecracking parent characters. There’s a sequence when the dad goes to inspect his daughter’s room, and in a Conjuring-type of manner, a night light goes off to shine Pooka characters all over the place. It’s a terrifying scene, but then the mom busts in with a baseball bat, confused about what the murderous thing is wearing rather than what it is.
“Pooka Lives!” is what the Child’s Play remake should have been. The Good Guys doll movie toyed with those concepts, but it ultimately failed to capitalize on its promise to be innovative. Brugués’ film does just that. The filmmakers are just as interested in providing a build-up to their frights as they are splattering the clichés in a hilarious and spirited fashion. It’s devilishly entertaining, funny, and clever to boot.