The director of this year’s most unconventional Christmas special wasn’t inspired by any of the season’s trappings. Instead, he took the job so he could pay homage to David Lynch.
“Pooka!”, the latest installment of the Blumhouse-produced Hulu film series “Into the Dark,” features Nyasha Hatendi as an actor who gets in over his head when he gets a job performing as Pooka, a terrifying character for children who has inspired comparisons to Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty.
When reading the script, Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo told IndieWire, “the movie that came to my mind instantly was my favorite feature film — ‘Lost Highway,’ by David Lynch. I felt like, okay, this is like a ‘Lost Highway’ cover somehow.”
Without going too deeply into spoilers, this was because of a big twist near the end of the script that led to the rest of the story being told from a much more subjective viewpoint. “I don’t want to use the term dream — this movie is not a dream. Let’s say that this movie happens in an alternative reality where rules are different than rules for our world,” he said. “It’s an environment that is defined by a specific state of mind.”
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He wasn’t trying to catch his audience off-guard with the warped finale. “The first decision that I made regarding the script was, instead of telling like an unrealistic tale that goes crazy at the end, I want the craziness to infect everything from the very beginning,” he said. “I didn’t want the ending to feel like a twist that you weren’t expecting, but a confirmation that this place exists in someone’s mind, a broken mind.”
That led him to the Lynch connection. “‘Lost Highway’ is about a guy that commits a horrible atrocious crime and instead of facing the consequences, he decides to create a universe where he can have a second chance and start again and this time he’s a good person, but the whole place crumbles because there is no way of second chances of this size,” Vigalondo said.
Vigalondo isn’t typically associated with the television realm. He’s best known for his cult sci-fi effort “Timecrimes” and last year’s “Colossal,” which starred Anne Hathaway in an unorthodox monster movie. The filmmaker felt that even though “Pooka!” was destined for Hulu, “I needed to prove to myself that this could be considered my next feature film. So I took it with that level of seriousness. I never tried to be lazy in all the ways every scene is developed on screen. I just tried to force myself into not thinking that this is television or whatever you call television today — because that is becoming a tough question.”
The film was shot in about 17 days, which was tight, but not much tighter than his schedule on other films, especially “Colossal,” which due to actor schedules barely shot for much longer. But Vigalondo would do it again, because “I don’t know if having a lot of time always means that product is going to be better. I tend to make friends with constraints and limitations.”
The only limitations he doesn’t like are the ones which might lead to outside meddling with his creative vision. “That would be a problem for me,” he said. “I can be friends with no time, I can be friends with no money, but I cannot be friends with too much control coming from the outside.”
Vigalondo has a writing credit on the upcoming Sundance selection “Paradise Hills,” directed by Alice Waddington and starring Emma Roberts, Awkwafina, and Milla Jovovich. “I just helped the whole production,” he said, “I was given a story, and I just rearranged the pieces in order to make it fell like a feature film. I’m very proud that the movie is there.” The occasion reminded of him of his debut, “Timecrimes,” which also played in Park City. “It is very useful for Spanish filmmakers to start a feature film career like that,” he said. “So the fact that Alice Waddington is following a similar path makes me feel really proud.”
In the meantime, he’s in development on two feature film scripts, and he’s also directing television in Spain, including a comedy set in ancient Rome called “Just Before Christ.” “It’s not a ‘Monty Python’ kind of piece — it’s about soldiers working for the Roman empire dealing with depression, dealing with anxiety, dealing with a lot of modern stuff,” he explained.
It’s the sort of project now possible in this new media landscape, which Vigalondo has come to embrace. “Five years ago, if you told me that I’m never going to release any movie in a theater again, I would be highly depressed, because five years ago, television had a completely different shape,” he said. “If you tell me today that I am never going to release another movie in the theater, I will be truly sad because I love theater — for me, that’s the ultimate experience. But I wouldn’t get depressed the same way.”
His relationship to television was evolving as well. “Normally, when we talk about the golden age of television, we talk about the quality of the scripts, the quality of the writing, the quality of the acting,” he said, “but I feel like the directing, taking things to the edge for a vision, is something that is happening right now. So it’s really exciting.” He admitted that “Pooka!” wouldn’t have been a television project earlier in his career. “If I went back in time and I gave a copy of ‘Pooka!’ to myself, like 10 or 15 years ago, and I told myself, okay, this is going to be made for TV, I wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “That would be completely unbelievable, but now it is. So yeah, I’m really happy about how things turned out.”