The title character in “Pooka!” is just as terrifying as this image suggests.
Photo: Richard Foreman (Hulu)

By now, you’ve likely heard of Hulu’s Into the Dark, a holiday-themed horror anthology that’s rolling out in monthly installments. But if you have yet to tune in, the Christmas episode, “Pooka!,” premieres today and is absolutely not to be missed. io9 just so happens to have an exclusive video of its director discussing the truly twisted premise.

That director is Nacho Vigalondo, who turned Anne Hathaway into a melancholy-fueled kaiju monster in the wonderful Colossal and also made Timecrimes, one of the most mind-bending time-travel movies in recent memory. Working from relative newcomer Gerald Olson’s script, “Pooka!” deploys dazzling sensory overload (including saturated colors and a very ominous score) and disorienting editing to tell its tale of Wilson (Nyasha Hatendi), an actor whose life turns upside down when he agrees to play the mascot for a popular new toy.

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SURRENDER TO POOKA
Photo: Richard Foreman (Hulu)

That toy is Pooka, and it’s a ghoulish, talking, glowing-eyed teddy-bear thing that’s poised to “rip Christmas a new asshole,” according to Finn (Jon Daly), the enthusiastic brand rep who hires Wilson for the gig. In the words of the sing-song-y Pooka commercials, “You never know what Pooka will do!” It’s made abundantly clear that Pooka is a malevolent presence from the very beginning, but those lyrics prove prophetic for both Wilson and the audience, as we all realize together that the Pooka suit holds more dangerous power over Wilson than he ever could have imagined.

If that set-up feels familiar, it’s because “Pooka!” definitely isn’t the first “it’s not the man that’s bad, it’s the costume” story out there; Clown, an early entry from Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home director Jon Watts, is maybe the most recent example. But “Pooka!,” which takes place during a sunny, balmy December in Los Angeles, has its own unexpectedly sneaky tricks to play.

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OFF WITH HIS HEAD
Photo: Richard Foreman (Hulu)

We don’t just see Wilson fall prey to an evil that’s awakened when he dons Pooka’s giant head, we see the very fabric of reality begin to disintegrate around him. Even worse, his brain drain starts to affect everyone in his orbit—including the single mom (Latarsha Rose) he’s recently begun to woo, and his eccentric next-door neighbor (Dale Dickey). Before long, you’ll begin to question everything that’s happened in the episode so far—and realize just how deeply unsettling Wilson’s unraveling process has been. Ever wondered what it might look like if someone made a prequel about the person in the furry costume at the end of The Shining? Well...yeah. It might look a little like “Pooka!”

In this exclusive video, Vigalondo admits that “Pooka!” is actually “kind of wilder” than what he’s directed in the past (if you’re familiar with his work, that’s saying something); he also talks a bit about making a psychological horror movie from one character’s increasingly unreliable point of view, and that truly creepy Pooka costume.

Into the Dark’s “Pooka!” episode begins streaming today on Hulu.


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