Writer/Director Bishal Dutta uses a demon from Hindu mythology to tell a familiar story of trying to vanquish what cannot be stopped.
PLOT: An Indian-American teenager struggling with her cultural identity has a falling out with her former best friend and, in the process, unwittingly releases a demonic entity that grows stronger by feeding on her loneliness.
REVIEW: One of the coolest trends going on in horror right now is the usage of cultural Boogeymen. Some of these have reached the pop culture zenith, while others remain simple horrors for small-knit communities. Indian culture has a ton of demons, many of which the average American would have never heard anything about. The creature presented in It Lives Inside is called Pishacha and is based on flesh-eating demons in different Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. The history of the creature feels so much more intriguing since it’s based on actual mythology, versus something a screenwriter concocted to scare us. All of this is to say that, while the story may follow many beats we’ve seen before, It Lives Inside‘s unique identity makes it feel fresh and exciting.
Megan Suri’s Samidha is an extremely complex character that makes her intriguing to watch from the jump. I always love a story where we’re going down the rabbit hole of torture with a character. She doesn’t always do the right thing yet the justifications in the movie still keep the viewer firmly on her side. I also really enjoyed Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) as she serves as almost the Tina to Samidha’s Nancy. Which I think is apropos given some Nightmare on Elm Street imagery that the film evokes. I also like the dynamic that one of them is adapting to their new country while the other is struggling with it.
Written and directed by Bishal Dutta, he makes sure to bring some of his own personal experiences to the film, which grounds the film despite some of the otherworldly instances. The struggles with identity when moving to a new country, while still trying to pay respect to your heritage, is something many immigrants can relate to. 2023 has been an absolutely stellar year for cinematography in horror, and It Lives Inside continues that trend. Beautiful use of the wide aspect ratio and a color palate that only gets better as the film enters its final act make this stand out amongst other similar fare. There are several shots in this that I feel will be appearing in horror montages for years to come.
The demon itself is incredibly well done, utilizing mostly practical effects and being sure to keep them mostly in the shadows. The past year has had two similar villain reveals in both The Boogeyman and Smile, yet I’d say this eclipses both of those, by providing a great design that looks wonderful from all angles. It doesn’t matter how this is shot, it looks practical and, more importantly, great. I’m very curious to see some more close-ups of this creature as there was plenty of detail to examine. If I had to get into what I didn’t like, it’s mostly the undefined rules with the creature. Whether it’s invisible or not seems mostly based on circumstance, which made it hard to establish tension. The creature’s presence felt like more of a roll of the dice. Thankfully, when it is around, it’s truly terrifying and leaves an impact. If anything, I could have gone for more violence from the creature. It’s supposed to be a flesh-eater after all but we’re mostly just treated to bites.
The story of It Lives Inside may be a bit generic, but its cultural roots really help to give it a unique identity. I often roll my eyes during the exposition scenes in films of this ilk yet I couldn’t get enough of Neeru Bajwa speaking on it with such authority. Megan Suri gives a phenomenal performance and the creature has one of the best designs in all of horror. The movie doesn’t tread any terribly new ground, but not all movies do. Sometimes a properly executed story with great performances and practical effects are all a good horror film needs.
IT LIVES INSIDE is currently playing at Fantasia Film Festival 2023 and will be IN THEATERS ON SEPTEMBER 22ND, 2023.