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September 22, 2023 / Elevation Pictures

Starring: Megan Suri, Neeru Bajwa, Mohana Krishnan, Vik Sahay, Gage Marsh, Beatrice Kitsos, Betty Gabriel

Directed By: Bishal Dutta

Sam is desperate to fit in at school, rejecting her Indian culture and family to be like everyone else. When a mythological demonic spirit latches onto her former best friend, she must come to terms with her heritage in order to defeat it.

Written By Darren

Rating 2.5 out of 5

It Lives Inside has interesting roots in Indian culture that gives the film promise, but run of the mill horror tropes and generic jump scares prevents this indie horror film from being anything memorable.

In recent years, we have been treated to some truly incredible indie horror films like X and Hereditary, allowing new filmmakers to break onto the scene with their own stories on their own terms. For his feature film debut, Bishal Dutta works with interesting ideas pulled from Indian culture and mythology and mixes them with the teen horror genre. However, the entire experience is too familiar and does not generate enough terror to make this a standout horror film in a year full of some many great entries to the genre.

High school is tough, but even more so for Indian-American teenager Sam who is struggling with her cultural identity and finding who she wants to be as an individual. But when Sam unwittingly unleashes an ancient evil that only grows stronger from her loneliness, Sam must find a way to stop this demonic presence to save not only herself, but her friends and family.

From a narrative perspective, the film has promise. Dutta’s use of the Pishach as the film’s monster opens the film up to great potential for representation of Indian culture. There are moments of this cultural representation throughout the film, such as the puja and the scenes with Sam’s mother cooking, but the film does not spend enough time to highlight Sam’s family’s culture to make a lasting impact on the audience. Similarly, there is not enough time spent on the mythology of the Pishach to create a memorable monster, instead cramming the mythology into the film’s second act to quickly get to the film’s third act. The third act does pay off, providing some tense moments as Sam faces off against the Pishach that generate some genuine chills, but it is too little too late to make up for a weak first two acts that utilize generic jump scare tactics to little effect.

While the story stumbles at times, Dutta’s direction of the film is good. His use of practical effects creates some intriguing moments throughout the film, while the creature design and practical effects to bring to life the Pishach in the third act is everything you could want from a horror film. His emphasis on the characters is commendable, but he needed to find a better balance of it with the story development to create a more memorable experience.

At the centre of the film is the lead performance of Megan Suri as Sam. Suri is good in the lead role, capturing the fear and paranoia faced by this young woman who finds herself in the path of an ancient evil. Her performance carries the film from start to finish, providing a solid base to the story to attach the audience to Dutta’s story, though it is the supporting performance of Betty Gabriel which is the standout. Though largely underused for the majority of the film, Gabriel is sublime as Sam’s teacher Joyce, trying to comfort Sam and help her, before finding herself as the next target of the Pishach. Gabriel’s big moment near the end of the film’s second act is truly the most frightening and entertaining sequence of the entire film, it’s just too bad there was not more of Gabriel earlier on because her moments with Suri were some of the most touching moments of the film.

While the film has promise, generic horror movie tropes quickly take over and squander any potential It Lives Inside had to be an interesting exploration of Indian culture and mythology. While writer director Bishal Dutta’s efforts are commendable and he shows promise as a filmmaker, It Lives Inside fails to execute the required elements of the horror genre with enough terror and madness despite the talented performances for Megan Suri and Betty Gabriel.

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