THE STORY – Desperate to fit in at school, Sam rejects her East Indian culture and family to be like everyone else. However, when a mythological demonic spirit latches onto her former best friend, she must come to terms with her heritage to defeat it.
THE CAST – Megan Suri, Neeru Bajwa, Mohana Krishnan, Vik Sahay, Gage Marsh, Beatrice Kitsos & Betty Gabriel
THE TEAM – Bishal Dutta (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
From smaller titles like 2021’s “The Djinn” to something as big and ostentatious as “Krampus,” the horror genre has recently been turning culturally specific monsters into cinematic villains with varying levels of success. The latest is the lazily titled “It Lives Inside,” which centers around an Indian-American high school girl being terrorized by a demonic spirit called a Pishach. It’s obviously encouraging to see a new horror film exploring a specific, underrepresented culture in American cinema. Still, this movie has trouble finding new and inspired ways of telling its horrific story.
Sam, short for Samidha (played by Megan Suri), is a teenage girl who longs to assimilate into the culture of her school. She does her best to reject the Indian traditions held up by her mother and ignores a former friend named Tamira (Mohana Krishnan). Tamira seems to be going through a disturbing phase, drifting through the hallways sullenly, clutching a strange mason jar. When she goes to Sam for help, Sam turns her away. Shortly after that, Tamira mysteriously disappears, and Sam begins to feel as if something otherworldly may be stalking her.
For most of the film, the Pishach makes its presence known through sound rather than a physical presence. While it’s nothing new for horror films to hold off on revealing their central supernatural villain, this movie’s ways of scaring its characters and audience come off as merely simplified rather than intriguingly minimalistic. Sam and Tamira find themselves haunted by vague screaming, chanting, and monster sounds. The actual sound effects are created and mixed effectively, but this scare tactic gets tiring. When the demon finally makes its form known, its methods of attack and general design are both uninspired – there’s a lot of snarling and claws swiping through the air. The most impactful form the demon takes on is a spooky, shadowy entity that tends to hover just behind characters, only distinct in the darkness because of its glowing eyes. It’s an evocative and creepy image.
Luckily, the young leading lady at the film’s center is more than up to the task of battling the demon and an unvarying screenplay. Suri is well-equipped for both the scenes of typical teenage angst aimed at her traditionalist mother and the moments of otherworldly horror. She’s a particularly effective screamer, finding admirable diversity in her horrified reactions. Betty Gabriel, who made a splash as the housekeeper Georgina in “Get Out,” gets another scene-stealing turn as Joyce, Sam’s well-meaning teacher. She’s the epitome of friendly concern and even gets the most thrilling moment in the film as the demon chases her through the school.
It’s hard not to root for a film like “It Lives Inside.” It’s a step in the right direction for representation and a showcase for new voices in horror, but the lackluster scares and repetitive filmmaking make this an unfortunate disappointment.