I’m fast becoming a fan of cultural horror if that’s even an already established sub-genre. Any film featuring another culture’s mythology is something that I’m currently seeking out and so far haven’t been disappointed. I’ve dipped my toe in everything from the standard Japanese fare, Korean horror, Irish horror and more recently Jewish faith based mythology hitting everything in between and have yet to find one that didn’t affect me in some way but Indian-based horror is one that hasn’t crossed my desk yet. Based on the rich mythology that country offers, it seems like it would be right up my alley.
Bishal Dutta’s It Lives Inside is the story of an Indian-American teenager Samidha (Megan Suri) as she struggles to navigate high school, balancing her cultural heritage with the desire to fit in. After an incident involving her former best friend Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) unleashes a murderous demon that feeds on loneliness, a much larger problem arises.
As you might have gathered from the synopsis, this is a story of cultural identity wrapped in the subtle guise of a horror movie. We have Sam, torn between wanting to fit into Western society with an overbearing mother attempting to keep her tethered to her Indian roots. All this while a bloodthirsty demon stalks the shadows. This film handles the former well, showing Sam’s reluctant journey to embrace her ancestry but is somewhat formulaic in its approach to the horror aspects falling back on well-established tropes. In the opening scenes we are shown the fairly brutal aftermath of tangling with the Pishach (soul-eating demon) but things quickly change gears to the tension between Sam and her traditional Indian mother (Bajwa) causing the horror element to almost take a backseat. I enjoyed the underlying story of an angsty teen rebelling and a mother trying to keep her bound to their cultural roots but wished Dutta would have leaned a little harder on the horror. I was really hoping it would have taken more of a deep dive into Indian mythology. The small bits where the audience is filled in on the background of why Puja Day is celebrated and how that ties into the soul-eating demon currently stalking them were fascinating and should have been explored further given the rich source material. That being said, when the horror elements were present, they were done fairly well. Everything from the moody atmosphere to the practical creature design was well executed, even the few jumpscares (although a trope I’m not a fan of) played its role. As some of you know, I’m a huge fan of practical effects and the way we’re introduced to the entity, going from glowing eyes in the shadows to full-on realized demon on the screen was nicely done and a little reminiscent of Pumpkinhead (one of my guilty pleasures). Suri was impressive as the lead with Krishnan and Bajwa lending strong support. Even Vik Sahay as the kind-hearted father helping to bridge the gap between mother and daughter brought a smile to my face.
Is this the next big horror sensation? Probably not, but for a feature debut Dutta made a solid attempt and I’m looking forward to whatever he has coming down the pipe next. Judge for yourself as It Lives Inside is in theaters now.