Horror film It Lives Inside sets itself apart with unique cultural details
Like most genres in film history, horror movies have tended to be relatively homogeneous, focusing mostly on white characters and, if it delved into religion, Christianity. As movies in general have become more diverse, so has the storytelling, something which benefits a film like It Lives Inside.
The story centers on Indian-American teenager Samidha (Megan Suri), who’s suffering to a degree with her cultural identity, indicated by the opening scene depicting her shaving the dark hair off her arms. Her self-esteem isn’t helped by her childhood best friend, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), having turned herself into an outcast, eating lunch under bleachers and carrying a weird jar around everywhere.
Tamira claims that something lives inside the jar that has to be constantly fed, and a confrontation between the two unleashes the monster on Tamira and starts a series of scary dreams for Samidha. As the monster slowly insinuates itself into Samidha’s increasingly isolated life, she must turn to the one person with whom she’s having the most difficulty, her mother, Poorna (Neeru Bajwa).
The feature film debut for writer/director Bishal Dutta and co-writer Ashish Mehta, It Lives Inside has the familiarity of other previous mysterious force/monster movies, but sets itself apart by incorporating Indian and Hindu traditions. When Samidha confronts Tamira, she discovers a book filled with all manner of strange drawings and writing, but instead of being merely the scrawls of a possessed person, much of it is a reference to Hindu mythology.
For much of the film, Samidha shuns the traditions that her family, especially her mother, tries to keep alive. So it’s no small irony that it’s those same rituals and knowledge that may serve as the key to understanding and defeating the monster. It feels like the filmmakers are trying to tell a story about the costs of assimilation into a new country/culture as much as they’re to scare audiences.
Compared to other horror films, they do a pretty good job with the atmosphere and special effects. The monster is kept hidden in the shadows for most of the film, so there’s a solid creepy factor that keeps the tension level high. In fact, they might have done well not showing it at all; it’s only when it’s revealed that the spell is broken to a degree.
Suri is at the start of what’s shaping up to be a solid career, having co-starred in the recent Missing and on Netflix’s Never Have I Ever. She makes for a great lead character and horror protagonist. She’s aided by good supporting turns from Krishnan, Bajwa, and Betty Gabriel, who plays her teacher.
It Lives Inside more than holds its own in the scare department and ups the ante with its unique details. In a year that’s featured its fair share of intense movies, it brings a different perspective alongside its horrors.
It Lives Inside opens in theaters on September 22.