It Lives Inside
2023, PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Bishal Dutta. Starring Megan Suri, Neeru Bajwa, Mohana Krishnan.
REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., Sept. 22, 2023
The Blumhouse-ification of horror movies has slithered its way into the zeitgeist. Low-budget horror movies are either one of two things: a trauma-dump with an Ari Aster indie edge, or a sleek jump-scare train that looks like it might be produced by James Wan. Bishal Dutta’s first feature-length film, It Lives Inside, is the latter: a beat-for-beat haunted horror flick that plays into familiar territory. The big difference this time is that Dutta has created a first: an Indian American horror film that’s draped in Hindu mythology.
It Lives Inside follows Samidha (Suri), a teenage girl who is trying to balance her cultural identity while navigating the daunting task of fitting in at her high school. Her mother, Poorna (Bajwa), is trying to understand her daughter’s newfound distance, as well as her ex-best friend, Tamira (Krishnan), who shows up to school looking like an emo kid with insomnia. Tamira is not just metaphorically haunted, though: She's plagued by a demon that feeds off raw meat and loneliness. When Tamira attempts to reach out to Samidha for help, Samidha’s insecurities get the better of her and instead of trying to understand she rejects Tamira, breaking the jar and unleashing the hungry demon.
It Lives Inside is a blend of Asian American and horror movie tropes. Dutta and co-writer Ashish Mehta balance familiarity while merging these two genres together, which gives the film its edge but also keeps it from digging beyond insights that many South Asian filmmakers have dug into previously. It doesn’t really hinder the film’s effect, though, which is to create a vehicle to explore the depths of a new kind of demon. The creature design for It Lives Inside is wild – a mix between something from The Creature From the Black Lagoon and the Insidious Lipstick-Face Demon. His large, looming presence is staggering in the film, and you can almost feel his increasing strength through the film’s immersive sound effects. The lore of It Lives Inside is what lures the viewer in, that tantalizing bit of meat that the films feeds on, and to an extent it works.
Unfortunately, Dutta plays it almost too safe. The only additional bite to the film is Suri’s scream-queen-worthy performance, with bulging, terrified eyes and quivering lips. Every scary movie needs a magnetic leading lady, and Suri has the skill set, even though sometimes the script doesn’t give her character the oomph the actress possesses. Still, It Lives Inside at least isn’t just another mainstream horror weepy about grief – there’s a lot more that it’s playing around with, which is so refreshing in a time where horror is either extremely insane for the purposes of camp or about extremely damaged people who should just go to therapy. It’s nice to see a spooky movie that is having fun with a new box of tools.