Into the Dark’s latest entry, Pooka! left some Hulu subscribers scratching their heads. So we’re digging into the mind-bending details and shocking finale of this horror anthology series’ Christmas episode. WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.
Written by Gerald Olson and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Pooka! is a feature-length holiday horror movie that follows a twisted journey, centered around the creepy titular toy. Nyasha Hatendi stars as Wilson, a struggling actor looking for a fresh start and a good gig, who seems to find both when he’s hired to play Pooka to promote this Christmas’s most coveted toy. There’s something ominous about the promise of Pooka being “naughty or nice,” the strange audition process that involved a cryptic dance, and the beaming businessman played by Kroll Show’s Jon Daly, who has made his name playing sketchy creeps. Soon, Wilson’s life is spiked with naughty and nice. The nice: he meets single-mom Melanie (Latarsha Rose) and her adorable son Ty (Jonny Berryman), and quickly falls into their family and Christmas festivities. The naughty: Wilson begins losing time, awaking from violent visions to find his home trashed, his neighbor wounded, and photographs changed. He begins lashing out at Melanie and Ty, jealously demanding to know about the boy’s father and if he’s still “in the picture.”
A Christmas tree in Melanie’s home disappears and reappears without explanation. So too does Wilson’s kindly neighbor (Dale Dickey), who sometimes offers tea and other times is covered in blood and spouting enigmatic warnings. Wilson fears the Pooka suit is possessing him, making him naughty when he’d like to be nice, and smashing his sanity so he no longer knows what’s real. Everywhere he goes, he’s followed by red lights like those that flare in Pooka’s eyes when he’s being naughty. In the final act, all the answers to this slippery mystery are revealed.
Seriously, all the spoilers ahead for Pooka!.
Before we address the end, we must circle back to the beginning. Pooka! starts with blue and red lights flashing over blackness. An unsettling voice says “Look at all the pretty lights,” over and over as we open on a toy, lying on a roadway aflame. Its back is to us, alight with flashes of red and blue. Cut to Wilson, in the dark, his face alight with these same flashes. Then he steps out of this into a dingy apartment, where the plot begins. Wilson will tell his neighbor he is looking to start fresh. And when you first watch Pooka!, you might expect he’s trying to recover from whatever that first bizarre imagery connotes. A fire? An accident? A great personal loss? All of the above.
In the finale, it’s revealed that Wilson is Ty’s father and Melanie’s husband, the one who ruined Christmas before by doing something unspeakable. In the finale, a desperate for answers Wilson—wearing a badly battered Pooka suit—barrels into the posh mansion where he first met Melanie. Oddly, it’s not empty but filled with furniture, Christmas decorations, and family photos that include him. Melanie and Ty are there too, but they can’t see him. They are visions of a past he cannot change, much like Ebenezer Scrooge cannot impact the past he sees in the Christmas Carol adaptation Wilson thought he was auditioning for in act one.
Ty is playing with a toy cop car while Melanie sips on some tea, the peacefulness of this moment shattered by a harsh reprimand, “Ty! Go to your room.” A new Wilson enters, one who wears a leather jacket and a dark expression. Naughty Wilson and Melanie begin to argue. He screams, then throws their Christmas tree to the ground, right where Nice Wilson saw it lying and bleeding in one of his visions. Its string of red lights are crushed under Naughty Wilson’s furious foot. His rage cools when Ty re-enters. His voice changes; it softens. Naughty Wilson insists it’s okay, they’ll get a new tree, “the best one ever.” Nice Wilson’s obsession with getting Melanie and Ty a tree is now explained.
While Melanie considers Naughty Wilson’s plan to go to the lot together to get a new tree, Nice Wilson pleads for her, “No. Don’t listen to him. It’s not okay. He’s lying! He just wants to make himself feel better.” But Melanie can’t hear him. She gets into the car with Naughty Wilson and Ty, who carries a Pooka doll. The car speeds off, and Nice Wilson is powerless to stop it. He sobs, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Over and over, realizing what this is.
In the backseat, Melanie tries to soothe her son, who cradles Pooka in his arms. Looking out the window, she coos, “Look, Ty. Look at all the pretty lights.” Overcome with rage, Naughty Wilson glares at her via the rearview mirror, so he doesn’t see the car coming. And here, we’re back to the beginning. Fire on the roadway, the Pooka doll on its side, repeating Melanie’s final words. And it plays to the only person alive on the scene: Wilson.
In his final moments of life, he takes in these snatches of sights and sound, and his mind spins a narrative where he tries to make himself feel better. The Pooka doll becomes him, a creature capable of great warmth and great horror. His moods shift as does the tone of his voice, from friendly to monstrous. The red and blue flashes from a cop car’s lights become the colors signifying Pooka/Wilson’s naughty and nice side. Melanie and Ty become his goal, but one he cannot attain because deep down he knows they are gone. So Melanie’s words “Look at all the pretty lights,” becomes the mantra the broken Pooka proclaim, bringing an end to Nice Wilson’s beloved identity. And in a Wizard of Oz-like spin, Nice Wilson’s neighbor and that sketchy suit are here at the crash site too. As in the visions, she’s a victim of Wilson’s fury, having died in the car into which he collided. He is the EMT who shows up and tries to assure Naughty Wilson everything will be okay. But it won’t. Because in the end, Pooka! is a tale of inescapable death and damnation.
Header Image Source: Hulu