Releasing this week is the SXSW darling that won that festival’s Midnighter’s award, the thriller/creature feature It Lives Inside. The film takes all too familiar tropes but sets the action amid an immigrant Indian family and the Hindu religion. But while exploring different demonic deities and religious customs rarely seen on US theatre screens is imminently enticing for audiences looking for something new in the horror genre, It Lives Inside eventually ends up retreading territory we are all too familiar with.
Samidah (Megan Suri) is a fully integrated Indian-American teen with traditional parents living in your typical suburban neighbourhood, desperate for acceptance in a Western world. Meanwhile, Poorna (Neeru Bajwa), her mother, is trying to keep her daughter rooted in at least some Hindi traditions, including her participation in the Durga Puja that the family is hosting at their home. One day at school, Samidah is approached by her estranged friend Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), looking dishevelled and sleep-deprived, and she’s carrying a mysterious mason jar with her. Out of fear of embarrassment, Samidah rejects Tamira’s plea for help, breaking the mason jar in the process and unwittingly releasing a demon from its captivity. Now along with her crush Russ (Gage Marsh), Samidah must search out the answers and find a way to beat the demon before 7 days are up and Tamira is no more.
Yes, you read that right. A 7-day countdown straight out The Ring or its Japanese predecessor, Ringu. In fact, The Ring is the only film that this newer film borrows from liberally. It Lives Inside borrows so much from Nightmare on Elm Street that Wes Craven probably should have gotten a co-writing credit. One of the film’s best sequences takes place after hours in the school with Samidah’s teacher Joyce (Betty Gabriel). Itbecomes less impressive once you realise it is heavily inspired by a similar sequence in 2014’s Town that Dreaded Sundown and finishes with a blatant Elm Street rip off.
However, the biggest issue here is that the film doesn’t feel like it delves deep enough into the Hindi folklore it hints at, Instead, it just brushes over familiar setups with enough to try and distinguish it as different while keeping all the inner structure as a bunch of retreads. While I personally would love to have seen more told about the Durga Puja or the demon Pishacha involved, the final product just feels like they picked the Durga Puja due to its proximity to Halloween and the Pishacha just becomes a boring retread of a demon we have seen before. And nonsensical decisions, like how Samidah can just waltz into her school’s gymnasium on a Saturday when no one else is there, also pull you out of the story.
But for all its shortcomings in script and story structure, It Lives Inside does excel in one area of its production, and that’s the fantastic acting on display. In particular, all the women in this story are very good. Suri is more than capable of carrying the film on her shoulders and does so despite the film’s shortcomings. It’s a strong performance that has deservedly garnered her much praise. But if anyone outshines the rest here it’s Krishnan’s performance as the put-upon Tamira. In a limited screen role, Krishnan steals almost every scene she arrives in, filling Tamira with a palpable feeling of dread and despair. Not to be forgotten either are very strong turns from Bajwa and Gabriel as matriarchal influences in Samidah’s life. Both deliver the gravitas for the emotional stuff as well as the lung power for the scares.
On top of everything else that comes off as very mid-quality in the film, there are also some very questionable CGI effects in the film at parts, where ultimately a practical effect would have been much more effective. But in a way, that’s kind of to be expected from a film that feels like it’s cobbled together from parts of better, classic examples of the horror genre. I doubt there would be much hype around this film if the acting had been subpar, and really that’s the main reason to sit through the film. I just really wish there was more of a concerted effort to bring Hindi folklore to the forefront.
- Rated: PG-13
- Genre: Horror, Thriller
- Release Date: 9/22/2023
- Directed by: Bishal Dutta
- Starring: Betty Gabriel, Gage Marsh, Megan Suri, Mohana Krishnan, Neeru Bajwa, Siddhartha Minhas, Vik Sahay
- Produced by: Jameson Parker, Jeff Deutchman, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick
- Written by: Ashish Mehta, Bishal Dutta
- Studio: Neon, QC Entertainment