The poster for director Alejandro Brugués’ horror thriller, ‘Into the Dark: Pooka Lives!’

Creating laughs, as well as a seemingly perfect life on the internet, is a powerful motivator for many adults who are still striving to prove themselves, no matter how far removed they are from their old existence during adolescence. That urgent need to impress the people who were once a major part of their lives, both in reality and online, is one of the major driving forces in the new supernatural horror thriller, ‘Into the Dark: Pooka Lives!.’

The film stars Malcolm Barrett as a struggling writer who travels back to his hometown and reunites with a couple of his former friends and classmates from high school, who are played by Felicia Day and Jonah Ray. In order to make Barrett’s protagonist feel better about his current situation, the trio creates their own Creepypasta about Pooka for laughs, but are shocked when it becomes so viral on the Internet that it actually manifests more murderous versions of the creature.

‘Pooka Lives!’ was written Ryan Copple, and directed by Alejandro Brugués. The drama, which is now playing on Hulu, serves as the April 2020 installment of the ‘Into The Dark’ series, and celebrates Pooka Day. The movie serves as the first sequel in the anthology series.

Producer Jason Blum‘s independent television studio, Blumhouse Television, crafted ‘Into The Dark,’ which is a monthly horror event series that’s inspired by different holidays. The feature-length installments include Blumhouse‘s signature genre-thriller spin in its stories.

‘Pooka Lives!’ follows professional writer Derrick (Barrett) as he flees New York City for his hometown of Spring Valley. Now staying with former high school classmates and friends, Molly (Day) and Matt (Ray), the disgraced author must deal with an ongoing character assassination that’s being led by an upset YouTuber.

Deciding not to draw too much attention to himself, Derrick’s hired to write content for Spectacular Contraptions, the company that’s preparing for the celebratory release of Pooka 2.0. So while drunk, Derrick decides to write his own Creepypasta about Pooka for laughs. He fuses together the creator of Pooka’s murderous past with his company’s upcoming release party. The writer’s new urban legend states that if people perform a ritual, Pooka will appear to them to judge them.

Derrick and his friends become surprised when his story becomes so popular on the internet that he’s created an undead version of the title creature. So they ultimately must work together and do whatever it takes to stop the murderous Pooka.

Day, Barrett and Ray generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Pooka Lives!’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone. Among other things, the performers discussed how the film’s story represents real-life warnings that what’s meant to be funny online can actually become harmful in real life. The performers also embraced the opportunity to not only work together and with Brugués to create their characters’ arcs, but also companies like Blumhouse and Hulu, which supported the cast and crew’s visions for the drama.

The conversation with Day began with the actress describing why she was interested in taking on her role of Molly in ‘Pooka Lives!’ “My producing partner, Ryan Copple, wrote the script. He came up with this concept, and Blumhouse loved it. I believe that he tailored my role for me, so that when I read the treatment, I would automatically be in,” she divulged. “I love his writing, and this story is something that I love. It’s spooky, but not too spooky. It’s like a ‘Supernatural’ episode, in a sense. So I couldn’t say no, so I came on as an actor and producer, which was a treat.”

Further speaking of also serving as a producer on the film, Day mentioned that one of the benefits of also working behind the camera was that “I had a lot to do with the casting, so I think almost all of the actors were personal friends of mine!,” she shared with a laugh. “So it was so easy and fun to work on set, because I was already friends with everybody.

“As far as producing on set, I didn’t have to worry about the everyday logistics,” the producer shared. “But if the writer wasn’t on set, I would help rework scenes. But I was mostly an actress on set. Once production was over, I was able to give input on the edits, and I also gave a lot of input on the script before we shot, so it was a dream scenario.”

The conversation with Barrett began with the actor explaining why he was drawn to take on his role of Derrick in the second installment of the ‘Pooka’ series. “One of the ways I became attached is that I’m buddies with Felicia Day, who’s one of the actresses and producers. I’ve known her for years through the Comic-Con scene. We also recently did a table read together for a show for a podcast, so we just got reacquainted,” he shared

“So Felicia asked me, ‘What do you think about playing Derrick for ‘Pooka?’ So she sent me the script, which was awesome. I also love Blumhouse,” the actor added. “So this was a great opportunity to be the lead, and play this smart, but also vulnerable, guy who’s trying to do his best, and find his value again. Plus, the fact that the story has to do with social media, which is hugely popular, made this movie the perfect opportunity for me.”

Further speaking of social media and the internet, and how they play into the story of ‘Pooka Lives!,’ Barrett supports the idea that the what’s meant to be funny online can actually be harmful in real life. That point “can be toxic, in terms of how fanatic these overly excited individuals can be, combined with the real-life horror stories of people interacting with other people on the internet,” he emphasized. “There are also playful, horror and fantasy stories that people tell each other, like Slender Man and Blair Witch. Those folklore stories are developed through the internet, which are amazing to look at, especially in how we look at horror,” while also being toxic.

Ray also began his conversation by explaining how he became attached to star in ‘Pooka Lives!’ “Well, I liked the idea of playing Matt mainly because I liked that he was funny on purpose. He also becomes the person who’s incredibly wrong, and shows how wrong he truly is, just from not wanting to believe in other people’s beliefs. That, for me, was a fun arc to play,” he admitted.

Matt “says no to the idea that Pooka’s coming to life this whole time, until he’s shown first-hand evidence that there is a demon that’s trying to kill him. He then has to come to terms with that, and feels bad that he was in denial for so long,” the actor noted.

“What I liked about the project is that I enjoy working with Felicia Day. I previously worked with her on ‘Mystery Science Theater,’ so I’ve known her for years,” Ray added. “I’m also a huge fan of Alejandro Brugués, the director. He also directed ‘Juan of the Dead,'” which the performer enjoyed.

Following up on the process of working with their co-stars on the set of ‘Pooka Lives!,’ Day also shared her experiences of acting with them. “We had one day of rehearsal. Our director, Alejandro Brugués, had a day where we all got to know each other, and talk about our characters. That helped add to the depth of our rapport.

“Alejandro said, ‘First and foremost, you have been friends since you were kids, so you have to have that shorthand. So we tended to all hang out on set,” the actress explained. “Like I said earlier, a lot of us already knew each other, and everyone formed friendships on set. We still text each other, which is kind of unusual. We’re all really good friends, and I think that rapport shows on screen.”

Barrett is also expressed his passion for working with his co-stars on the set of ‘Pooka Lives!’ “Collaborating with Day was a really awesome experience. She’s a fun, smart person. She was open to new ideas, and also had really strong ideas of her own. She, along with Alejandro, allowed us to be who we were, and live in the moments we were creating,” he shared. “The dialogue was very fluid, and we were able to work through that. I think that was the perfect combination for all of us.”

Ray also chimed in on the experience of collaborating with the rest of the cast on the drama. “When I was watching the movie, I saw the first scene where we showed all the friends together. That was one of the first scenes we shot,” so the actors weren’t extremely close yet. “But we all quickly became friends on set, and would joke around. So we really did feel like a group of friends, and it became easier for us to then replicate that in our performances.”

Like the performers mentioned, Brugués served as the helmer on the movie. Day then further discussed what the experience of collaborating with him was like during production. “Alejandro is so brilliant. This was a low-budget film, and we had a very crazy schedule, especially what we had to accomplish with the action sequences. He specializes in the action sequences, and the way he put together those scenes was phenomenal; I learned so much from him,” she shared. “Another great thing is, he always remained calm, and was always kind to everyone on set.”

Barrett also expressed his admiration for Brugués as a filmmaker. “Alejandro is one of the funnest, spontaneous, visually strong directors I’ve ever worked with. It was a complete joy and pleasure to be on set with him. I think he understands action and actors, and he knows how to make things work,” the actor gushed.

Ray agreed that getting to work with the Brugués “was a lot of fun. The director really sets the tone, and what the environment’s going to be, on set. He just made it friendly, and everyone tried to put in the best work they could do.” The actor also revealed that the filmmaker “was down to experiment, and change up scenes; he was always open. Since English is his second language, he would sometimes say, ‘I don’t get this joke; can we change it?’ He tried to make every moment clear for everyone who’s watching…He also had a lot of sarcasm that kept things lively and fun on set.”

Brugués also encourage the cast to offer their own input on their characters during production, to a small degree. “There wasn’t a ton of improv from us,” Day revealed. “But while we were reading through the script, the writer, Ryan, would incorporate new things, and Alejandro also had some input. I also had a lot of input, as well…Sometimes, there were also production problems, so things had to be re-worked, and pages had to be cut out, and there was some collaboration there.

“We all contributed, but ultimately, Ryan infused the voices of our characters onto the page after he heard us read them out loud. But this was really Ryan’s piece, and he made everyone shine,” the actress added.

Barrett also offered insight into the actors adding their own thoughts and ideas for their characters. “Yes, there definitely was a fun bit of ad-libbing. Alejandro always encouraged us to ad-lib or improvise, where it made sense. If things were sticking, we’d turn to the writer, and have a mix of our ideas,” he shared. “There are definitely a couple cool key scenes where Alejandro let me do my thing. It’s always fun when you can collaborate with a director, who says, ‘Go ahead, I know your humor.’ We both have a messed up sense of humor, which makes sense when you’re doing a horror comedy.”

Further speaking of the fact that the thriller features a mix of horror and comedic moments, Barrett expressed that blending those two genres together “was a lot of fun. I’ve actually never been part of a horror movie before…This was a very good group, because they got very funny, strong actors to be in these horror situations.” He added that “At the end of the day, I think we’re all comedians when it comes to things that scare us. When we’re in scary situations, they’re not funny in the moment, but we react in comedic ways,” he pointed out.

“They got really strong actors, like Jonah Ray, who does stand-up, and Felicia, who has such a creative mind, to play to their strengths. But these are people who are also really able to capture the genre. They see the fun in everything, but at the same time, they also see the grounded weight of what’s going on, which is a really awesome combination to have in this kind of movie,” the actor admitted.

Ray agreed with Barrett that the cast was able to incorporate their own humor and ideas into their characters. But the drama “was very scripted. Ryan Copple wrote a very tight script, but to give it some realistic flow, Alejandro was very good in letting us add little jokes. I ended up changing some of my lines, just because I wanted them to sound a bit more natural in the way I was playing Matt,” he revealed. “Alejandro was also very good in letting us make these characters our own, instead of making us fit into the archetypes of how they were written.”

With Pooka manifesting in a more murderous way in real life, Barrett also enjoyed the process of creating the physicality for his role. “The stunt work was pretty cool. There were things I hadn’t done before; I had some limited experience doing some run-and-gun stuff from my last show, which was a time travel adventure series, ‘Timeless.’

“So these stunts were interesting, because I was directly involved in getting hit, and attacked, by a monster. There was a pulley system for when the monster had to drag me across the ground. It was literally two guys who were pulling me with a rope,” the actor shared.

“So there were a couple new physical experiences that I hadn’t done before, which no one had ever seen on film before. This was after Pooka became more popular as a brand, so we’re seeing new versions of it that we hadn’t seen before,” Barrett added.

“We had a stunt guy who was in there who was physically amazing. He and I got to do some work together while I was in costume. So it was a really cool experience,” the actor also revealed.

The process of creating the physicality for his role of Matt was also something that Ray enjoyed during the movie’s production. “They had a stuntman for Malcolm Barrett, but then they told me, ‘You don’t need a stuntman, because you’re not doing much!’ So I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think so; I’m pretty good at falling!,” Ray divulged.

“I ended up doing two stunts, where I trip and fall over a bed, and then do a flip fall over a desk. I was very excited to get to do my own stunts. I was like, I can do a fall, because I’ve been doing it for years in comedy,” the actor also revealed. “But what I didn’t really think about when I was doing these falls was that you just don’t do the fall, and then you’ve got it; you have to do the fall about 10 times. So I was really sore for a few days afterward, just from having to continuously fall over a desk, and land on my back and side. But it was still a lot of fun, because I’ve never had the chance to do that before.”

With ‘Pooka Lives!’ being the first sequel in the ‘Into the Dark’ series, Day also cherished the process of staying true to the original movie, while also making the new story unique. “There was a really great effort to make this film a stand-alone, so that new people coming in won’t need to know about the previous movie, which was kind of tricky, but I think that was accomplished well,” she admitted. “But the vibe of this new movie is much different; there’s less psychology, and more action.”

The actress added that she thinks “If you’ve seen the first film, you’ll be excited to see Pooka again. There are a lot of iterations of Pooka in this movie that take the character in new directions. But I do think there are things for new and old fans!”

Barrett also shared this thoughts on how ‘Pooka Lives!’ pays tribute to the overall tone of the franchise, while also remaining original. “There are some nods in this movie about Pooka being the hero/protagonist in the first movie. But I also think this movie does a really great job of jumping genres…and really change what you’re expecting. The first one was really a psychological thriller, and this one is more comedy-horror. I think Alejandro did a really great job of taking what people loved from the first movie, while also creating something new that lives on its own,” the actor disclosed.

Ray also embraced the process of making ‘Pooka Lives!’ its own film, while also paying homage to the first installment. “I watched the first one when I was prepping to audition for the sequel. While watching it, I was like, okay, it’s really serious, it’s a psychological thriller, so that’s how I was prepping for this new one,” the performer admitted.

“But once I got the full script for the sequel, I was like, ‘Oh, this is really funny, and there are a lot of jokes. So it’s a totally different tone.’ Alejandro was very clear about that, because he’s such a great comedic horror director, and understands physical jokes. So it was fun to pay tribute to the original, which was really great and creepy, while also embracing a whole new style in the Pooka universe,” Ray followed up.

Following up on the different iterations of Pooka in the new second installment, Day said the different looks of the title character were created by Brugués, Copple, production designer Eve McCarney and the design team. “I think it was Alejandro who really brought that vision to life. It’s really cool and fun how Pooka morphs throughout the movie,” she shared.

With ‘Pooka Lives!’ being the April installment in Blumhouse Television and Hulu’s ‘Into the Dark’ series, Day cherished the opportunity to work with both companies. “Blumhouse is really an innovator when it comes to getting quirky stories released. Their films are low-budget, but they still take a lot of risks, which I really appreciate being a part of, as a filmmaker. They were really supportive, every step of thew way,” she divulged. “I think the ‘Into the Dark’ model is really cool, because everything is a quick turnaround. But at the end of the day, they’re making a lot of really cool content, which I really appreciate.”

Barrett also described the experience of collaborating Blumhouse and Hulu “as amazing. I think a lot of my shows wind up on Hulu! From my perspective, it was a fun ride. (Blumhouse) makes under-budget work really quickly, but they also maintain their creativity. That was very clear from the very beginning, and they let us make this story our own.”

Ray also shared his thoughts on working with the two companies for ‘Pooka Lives!’ “Everyone from Hulu was great, and the people from Blumhouse were awesome. I was so excited to be involved in a Blumhouse production in any way; they’re putting out such great stuff at such a consistent rate. I’m very fortunate and proud that I get to have this be a part of my career.”

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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