Director Bishal Dutta understands the importance of atmosphere. Making his feature debut with the new demonic horror film “It Lives Inside”, Dutta takes time presenting his characters and story, slowly unfolding his tale of terror and creating a proper sense of dread. Even more important than the well-crafted horror moments is Dutta’s representation of culture. Crafting a tale that incorporates Hindu mythology, the film uses its story to examine the effects of ignoring one’s heritage. The cultural divide in the screenplay becomes a vicious torment of the soul.
Samidha (Megan Suri) is an Indian-American teenager who just wants to fit in. Her father (Vik Sahay) has assimilated to life in the United States but Samidha’s mother (Neeru Bajwa) is angered by her daughter’s denial of their family’s Hindu beliefs and customs.
Dutta’s screenplay gives the audience just enough of Samidha’s family life. The three actors have a natural symmetry to their moments together and the confrontational relationship between mother and daughter is a reflection of Samidha’s reluctance to be proud of her heritage. The old ways being put aside to assimilate a new lifestyle is something families from other countries experience in an America that is not always as welcoming as it claims. To see these themes explored in a 2023 horror film is distinctive, refreshing, and gives one hope for the genre’s future.
Full of different levels of teen angst, the young girl distances herself from her ethnic background, as she doesn’t want to stand out amongst the students of her suburban high school.
Years ago, Samidha turned her back on her best friend, another girl from a Hindu family. Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) is now a strange girl who Samidha all but ignores, as her old pal has begun to act strangely and carry around a glass jar that holds something evil. When Tamira comes to her for help with a demon that is haunting her, things go horribly wrong. The jar breaks and the demonic force is freed. As the entity keeps Tamira prisoner, it begins a vicious torment of Samidha. Seeking help from classmate/potential boyfriend Russ (Gage Marsh) and a sympathetic teacher (Betty Gabriel, a fine actress who has become a genre mainstay), our young heroine soon learns that bad things can happen to those who interfere.
Existing in Hindu folklore, the demon in question is the Pishacha, a human flesh-eating creature who creates terror and then feeds on the negative emotions of its victims, blanketing their lives with chaos and fear.
As “It Lives Inside” makes creepy use of the Pishacha and its effects on Samidha (and those around her), Matthew Lynn’s cinematography and Tyler Harron’s production design solidify the horrifying atmosphere. Wide angles, good framing, and (mercifully) zero of the dreaded shaky-cam style enhance this picture’s atmospheric pull.
Where the film falters (as is the curse of most modern films) is in the reveal of the creature and the finale. While the demon looks okay, its design doesn’t set it apart from the many movie monsters we have seen throughout the years. When the beast is finally shown, it looks like a distant cousin of Stan Winston’s “Pumpkinhead”; both a compliment and a curse.
When the Pishacha is confronted, Dutta falls prey to another tired CGI-heavy battle between good and evil and the wrap up goes by too quickly. For all of the creative tension building and interest the filmmaker achieves in his screenplay, Bishal Dutta ends with a whimper. The confrontation between good and evil is nothing new and stops as soon as it starts, while the final scene tries for an emotional resolution that fails to hit.
Despite these faults, “It Lives Inside” works very well due to a committed craftsmanship from the director and his crew and a literate script that breathes life into its characters as cultural mythologies and metaphors combine. This is a film that wants to set itself apart and does so with a refreshing uniqueness.
It Lives Inside
Written & Directed by Bishal Dutta
Starring Megan Suri, Mohana Krishnan, Neeru Bajwa, Betty Gabriel
PG-13, 99 Minutes, Neon/Brightlight Pictures/QC Entertainment