It Lives Inside
Director: Bishal Dutta
Starring: Megan Suri, Neeru Bajwa, Vik Sahay, Betty Gabriel, Mohana Krishnan
I have a special place in my heart for demonic horror movies, even though most of them are, well, not that great. But sometimes, a film comes along that restores my faith in the genre. It Lives Inside, directed by Bishal Dutta, is one such movie. It pays homage to various horror efforts such as The Ring, Lights Out, and A Nightmare on Elm Street while also showcasing Indian culture, and, crucially, the movie successfully utilizes its influences while remaining fresh.
"It Lives Inside relies more on atmosphere and implication than full-on scares, but it delivers when it needs to."
The plot centers around Samidha (Suri), a teenager with Indian heritage who tries to fit in with her American peers by downplaying her cultural identity. When her friend Tamira (Krishnan) seeks her help, Samidha (literally) pushes her away, which starts a chain reaction that unwittingly unleashes an ancient demon. Samidha's relationship with her traditional mother Poorna (Bajwa) is also strained, providing another way for the demon to dance gleefully into their lives.
It Lives Inside is a confident horror movie that combines cultural and social commentary with effective horror sequences. Samidha eschews her family heritage in order to fit in with her classmates, who see her culture and language through ignorant eyes, but she is willing to forge ahead to avoid being ostracised - and to continue her fleeting romance with class beefcake Russ (Marsh). Dutta is adept at controlling the spinning plates he sets in motion, though the movie's third act deviates from its predecessors and becomes more traditional in terms of horror, which is one of its only real weak points.
Megan Suri is strong in her role as Samidha and she handles the conflicting character traits with conviction, and Neeru Bajwa and Berry Gabriel provide excellent supporting roles. The performances mirror the sound craftsmanship throughout, Dutta can shoot horror extremely well but handles the coming-of-age aspect with a deft approach. The movie relies more on atmosphere and implication rather than full-on scares, but it delivers when it needs to, and though the visual presentation is average, the horror sequences are well crafted (a sequence featuring playground swings of all things is excellently executed as well as a Lights Out style chase through Samidha’s high school). Additionally, the presentation of the demon is original and not overly exaggerated, which came as a relief.
While It Lives Inside does well to craft and create a good sense of atmosphere, it does begin to feel stretched by the time we reach the mildly underwhelming finale. If the film starts to overstay its welcome slightly, the strength of what came prior helps it cross the finish line successfully. Of course, a more substantial conclusion would have been welcomed, but when the credits rolled, I felt like I had seen a resolved movie and the familial drama continued to the denouement without being neglected. Overall, It Lives Inside is a well-crafted horror movie that combines effective horror set-pieces with a well-handled coming-of-age storyline. While the ending could have been stronger, the movie is still a very good entry into the genre.
August 8th 2023