Betty Gabriel, Bishal Dutta, Gage Marsh, horror, It Lives Inside, Jenaya Ross, Megan Suri, Mohana Krishnan, movies, Neeru Bajwa, reviews, SXSW, SXSW Film and TV Festival, SXSW Film Festival, Vik Sahay
September 25, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Bishal Dutta
Some language in Hindi with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “It Lives Inside” has a cast of Indian and white characters (with one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A high school student, who has been shunning her former best friend, finds out that her friend has unleashed a supernatural evil monster.
Culture Audience: “It Lives Inside” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a horror movie with some jump scares and don’t mind if the rest of the story is weak.
“It Lives Inside” had the potential to be a more intriguing horror movie if the plot had been developed better. There are too many unanswered questions by the end of film. Some stylish horror moments and adequate acting can’t overcome the movie’s flaws.
Written and directed by Bishal Dutta, “It Lives Inside” is his feature-film directorial debut. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival, where it won the Midnighters Audience Award, given to movies that are usually in the horror genre or are considered movies that tend to be shown at midnight screenings. The movie has plenty of jump scares, but they don’t add up to much when the characters are so underdeveloped and the same types of scares get repeated.
“It Lives Inside” brings up issues of Indian immigrants living in the United States and navigating between Indian culture and American culture. However, the movie doesn’t really do much with this perspective, since “It Lives Inside” turns into a run-of-the-mill evil monster movie, where the monster just happens to come from Indian folklore. A lot of the Indian culture presented in the film is just style over substance.
Unfortunately, the trailer for “It Lives Inside” shows about 90% of the film’s plot, as well as reveals some of the best scenes in the movie, which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city. The plot of “It Lives Inside” is so basic, it would be enough for a short film. A lot of scenes could have been cut from the movie, and it wouldn’t have made a difference with the end result.
In “It Lives Inside,” a high school student named Samidha, nicknamed Sam (played by Megan Suri), is about 16 or 17 years old and living with her Indian immigrant parents: mother Poorna (played by Neeru Bajwa) and father Inesh (played by Vik Sahay), who are fairly traditional. Poorna is much stricter and more uptight than Inesh, who is laid-back in his personality and parenting style. An early scene in the movie shows Sam’s classmate Russ (played by Gage Marsh) inviting Sam to a party, but Sam says that she can’t go because her parents expect her to celebrate Magha Puja Day, which celebrates events in the life of Buddha.
Not much is ever told abut Sam during this entire movie. It’s mentioned that she failed her driver’s license test three times. She is also someone who has dropped her former best friend Tamira (played by Mohana Krishnan) because Sam wants to be in the popular students’ clique at the school. A teacher at the school named Joyce (played by Betty Gabriel) is concerned about the way that the other students talk about Tamira. When Joyce asks Sam why Sam’s friendship ended with Tamira, Sam doesn’t really give a completely truthful answer and vaguely says that they outgrew each other.
Tamira is immediately presented as a “weird” outcast. One day, Tamira shows up looking disheveled at the school while she is holding a mysterious jar. There also appears to be blood seeping from inside Tamira’s backpack. Tamira takes the jar with her everywhere. People at the school have noticed and are staying away from her or are making snide comments about Tamira behind her back.
Sam acts disgusted and doesn’t want anything to do with Tamira, who insists that something evil is living inside the jar, and this evil entity needs to eat raw meat. In the school’s gym locker room, Sam snaps at Tamira: “You’re such a fucking psycho!” Sam knocks the jar out of Tamira’s hand, the jar falls and breaks on the floor, and black dust comes out of the jar. There’s also an old book on the floor that Sam tries to give back to Tamira.
You know what all of this means in a horror movie like “It Lives Inside”: an evil spirit has now been unleashed. The monster’s name is The Pishach (played by Jenaya Ross), and it shows up in a lot of darkly lit scenes. What the monster does is entirely predictable, but don’t expect to hear anything substantial about the origins of this monster. “It Lives Inside” seems more enamored with how scenes look rather than telling a compelling story about the characters in those scenes.
Neon released “It Lives Inside” in U.S. cinemas on September 25, 2023.