Directed by: Bishal Dutta
Premise: Sam is an Indian-American teenager (Megan Suri) who observes her former best friend (Mohana Krishnan) become consumed by fear of a demonic entity. When her friend goes missing, Sam is plagued by violent supernatural phenomena.
What Works: It Lives Inside presents a tale of demonic haunting and possession from a distinctly Indian-American point of view. That alone distinguishes the film in this genre but what is most compelling about It Lives Inside is the family relationships and the way Sam is caught between her Indian heritage and the everyday life of an American teenager. Sam has a tense relationship with her mother (Neeru Bajwa) and is estranged from her former best friend Tamira (Mohana Krishnan). Sam comes across embarrassed and disconnected from her culture but she has to reconcile the new world and the old world in order to thwart the supernatural threat. The mother-daughter tension is done especially well; the conflict between the immigrant parents and their teenage daughter feels very real. The supernatural entity of It Lives Inside is a Pishach, which absorbs the negative energy of its host and gradually consumes their soul. The filmmakers do a good job of explaining the culture without overloading on exposition. Scenes of the Indian family socializing with their community are mostly done in a natural, observatory way. It Lives Inside also has a number of frightening set pieces. As is often the case in supernatural horror, the subtle moments leave the greatest impression. The final confrontation has an unexpected resolution that’s unnerving and provocative and has interesting implications when set against the picture’s portrait of immigrant life.
What Doesn’t: The narrative of It Lives Inside struggles with consistency and logic. Early on Tamira mysteriously disappears. Neither the school nor the community put much effort into looking for her. Even Sam mostly carries on as usual. There’s very little tension about her disappearance when this should be the driving force of the drama. A related problem is the relationship between Tamira and Sam. We’re told that they were best friends but there is little sense of that in the movie and so the stakes of Tamira’s rescue are low. The demon attacks other people and some of them are killed but this never raises the interest of anyone. Some of the other problems are subtle but distracting such as Sam’s teacher and mentor (Betty Gabriel) who is always at school, even in the middle of the night.
Bottom Line: It Lives Inside is the debut feature from director Bishal Dutta and he is a promising filmmaker. The movie works well enough as an exercise in atmosphere but It Lives Inside suffers from a story that isn’t entirely thought through.
Episode: #969 (October 15, 2023)