It Lives Inside 2023 Movie Review
Bishal Dutta’s “It Lives Inside” is a demonic horror tale that plays recognizable genre hits with a cultural twist. The struggles of being non-white in America are carried by a high school girl who downplays her Indian heritage — only to have it come roaring back with a vengeance. Dutta doesn’t hide influences in spotlight set pieces from “The Ring” to “It Follows” (intentional or not) because if it ain’t broke, yadda yadda yadda? Scary is scary! “It Lives Inside” asserts its importance as an Indian-American ode to the outsiders stuck trying to live two separate lives and succeeds as a crossroads between international flavors and domestic horror mindsets.
Megan Suri stars as Indian teenager Samidha (Sam to her friends), an American girl with Indian heritage. At home, Samidha’s mother Poorna (Neeru Bajwa) stresses the importance of traditions as a proud Indian woman. At Wooderson Grove High School, Sam spends time with American classmates speaking Hindi like a party trick. Sam yearns for an everyday life where she chases cute boys like crush Russ (Gage Marsh) and isn’t beholden to her family’s cultural demands, until she needs their help after Sam accidentally unleashes a demon from her childhood stories that snatches ex-bestie Tamira (Mohana Krishnan).
“It Lives Inside” boils melting-pot frustrations as cultures clash on American soil, where minorities are still viewed through different eyes. Suri’s performance as a frustrated girl ping-ponging between Indian ceremonies and American teenage hangouts stands out for its honest aggravations. Sam is asked to come of age where her parents’ norms are anything but ordinary, and Suri banters well with Bajwa’s stern-faced mother who cooks traditionally, dresses traditionally, and views Sam’s resistance as a betrayal. Dutta’s screenplay lays a rocky foundation already poisoned by conflict, perfect for an evil entity to feed upon as the rift between mother and daughter starts on shaky terms.
Dutta and credited story originator Ashish Mehta introduce American audiences to an Indian demon called a “Pishach,” defined as a soul eater. While the malevolent entity’s appearance is held for the third act reveal, there’s still danger from the moment Sam shuns Tamira’s babbling about Indian folktales and smashes her jar etched with protective language. “It Lives Inside” first employs an invisible figure responsible for a gnarly swing set scene where the Pishach viciously attacks, becomes more visible as a Freddy Krueger type who invades Sam’s nightmare with frightful “The Ring” similarities, then the grand monster reveal shows the Pishach as designed from jagged-toothed creature molds like in “Feast.” We’ve seen these techniques refitted by countless horror filmmakers, making Dutta only the latest — but his execution displays steady vision and command. Recreation is not a crime as long as execution is on point, which Dutta assures as scares are as confident as the writer and director behind the camera.
Composure is a key attraction to “It Lives Inside,” whether it’s Matthew Lynn’s distorting cinematography that swirls to represent lives turning upside down or thick shadowy lighting that nails alarming atmospheres. Dutta recognizes how appealing horror movies look, sound, and terrify, which “It Lives Inside” replicates in stride. Sam and Poorna’s disenchantment as a rebellious teen fights for independence is as well-polished an arc as Sam and Russ’ teenage love story or Mr. Pishach’s array of boogeyman tricks from eyes peering through darkness to bite marks piercing flesh.
But there’s still a ceiling on Sam’s dangerous dealings with Pishach as the experience feels overlong and a tad anticlimactic. Dutta telegraphs much of “It Lives Inside” because it’s less about the destination and more a commentary on the journey, which still lacks a bit of scripted suspense. An hour and forty-minute production begs to be a tight ninety instead, dragging on as the invisible version of the Pishach dominates screen time before the physical beast enters the frame. The film is at its best in scarier moments, like when Sam’s concerned teacher Joyce (Betty Gabriel) dashes away from Pishach “Lights Out”-style, which becomes apparent as buildup can linger between adrenaline-thumping altercations.
A good horror movie like “It Lives Inside” hits the spot, even if it’s not super filling. Bishal Dutta smashes borders with a demonic coming-of-age story that’s as introspective as violently aggressive. Any comparisons to “The Ring” or “Lights Out” aren’t meant to be a shrug about something being done better elsewhere — art of any medium influences creators in the future. Dutta’s never shy about leaning on what’s been scary for decades, which he gets away with because of the craftsmanship on display. Lesser filmmakers wouldn’t be granted such graces.