It Lives Inside – Review

In the realm of horror cinema, there are films that break new ground and those that tread the well-worn path of genre tropes. “It Lives Inside,” directed by Bishal Dutta in his directorial debut, falls somewhere in between. This Indian American monster movie melds the familiar with a few fresh twists, drawing from a rich cultural tapestry to set itself apart in the overcrowded horror landscape.

At its core, “It Lives Inside” is a story of a teenager grappling with identity and cultural heritage, set against the backdrop of a horror narrative. Dutta, who also penned the script, centers the story on Samidha, or Sam, as portrayed by Megan Suri of “Never Have I Ever” and “Missing” fame. Sam is an Indian American teenager attempting to navigate the complexities of high school life in a predominantly white environment. Dutta explores themes of assimilation and identity through Sam’s character arc, resonating deeply with the nuanced experiences of many second-generation immigrants.

The film finds its stride in the quieter moments of cultural reflection rather than in its horror elements. The portrayal of Sam’s relationship with her mother, who strives to maintain traditional values, adds a layer of authenticity and relatability. Similarly, the dynamic between Sam and her friend Tamira, another Indian American student, delves into the social hierarchies and pressures of high school life, reminiscent of classics like “Heathers” and “Fright Night.”

However, where “It Lives Inside” struggles is in its adherence to standard horror conventions. The narrative is interspersed with jump scares and horror set pieces that, while effective at times, often feel predictable and unoriginal. The film’s supernatural antagonist, a demonic spirit from Hindu mythology known as Pishach, fails to break new ground in a genre replete with similar entities. The creature, menacing in its unseen form, loses its impact as it becomes more visible, reminiscent of less successful horror creatures like the human-alien hybrid from “Alien: Resurrection.”

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Operating within the constraints of a PG-13 rating, Dutta skillfully crafts a menacing atmosphere, utilizing darkness and sound design to evoke fear. These elements showcase his potential as a filmmaker capable of crafting tension and mood, even when hampered by rating limitations. The film’s depiction of immigrant guilt and cultural reinvention adds a layer of depth to the otherwise formulaic horror plot, offering glimpses into the complex realities of the immigrant experience.

While Dutta’s script occasionally falters—Sam’s mother, for instance, often serves as a mere conduit for exposition—it is in the film’s specific cultural moments that it finds its voice. These scenes, dealing with themes of identity and belonging, add a much-needed texture to the narrative.

In terms of metaphorical horror, Dutta’s approach is blunt, yet in certain scenes, this bluntness translates into effective storytelling. The film culminates in an ending that, while not groundbreaking, is sufficiently unnerving and thought-provoking. “It Lives Inside,” in its best moments, hints at Dutta’s potential to delve deeper into the horror genre, suggesting that his future projects may unearth more novel and compelling narratives.

In summary, “It Lives Inside” is a mixed bag. It is a film that, while rooted in standard horror conventions, occasionally rises above them through its cultural specificity and nuanced portrayal of identity. For fans of the genre, it offers familiar thrills with a few unexpected twists. As Dutta’s first foray into horror filmmaking, it shows promise and leaves us curious about what he might bring to the table next.

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