The Movie Waffler New Release Review - IT LIVES INSIDE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - IT LIVES INSIDE

It Lives Inside review
A demon from Indian folklore is unleashed in suburban America.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Bishal Dutta

Starring: Megan Suri, Neeru Bajwa, Mohana Krishnan, Vik Sahay, Betty Gabriel

It Lives Inside poster

Every culture has its own brand of demonic folklore but there's a large overlap across the world's faiths that represents universal fears. Writer/director Bishal Dutta draws on childhood tales relayed by his Indian grandmother for his feature debut, It Lives Inside, but the demonic antagonist is a variation of others we've seen in horror movies from across the globe. It feeds on fear and dark thoughts, an idea we've seen as recently as the Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman. Something else that's universal is the struggle of teenage girls to fit in with their peers, especially if they're considered "different" in any way.

Samidha (Megan Suri) differs from her peers because she's an Indian teen in a white American suburb. Her attempts to distance herself from her parents' culture is first illustrated by her use of a skin lightening tool after taking a selfie. When her mother, Poorna (Neeru Bajwa, who looks more like Suri's big sister), speaks Hindi at the breakfast table, Samidha, who prefers to be called Sam, replies in English. Sam frowns when she's asked to participate in an upcoming religious ceremony, and the influence of western feminism has caused her to resent her mother for happily playing the traditional role of a stay at home housewife.

It Lives Inside review

At school, Sam is patronised and condescended to by teachers and students alike. There's nothing malicious about how she's treated, but she's othered by the white pupils who use her ability to speak another language to create amusing Tik Tok videos and ask her for help with their maths homework. Joyce, a kindly black teacher played by Betty Gabriel, is well meaning yet patronising, and when the only other Indian kid in school, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), starts behaving strangely, Joyce assumes Sam might know what's up with her.

While Sam rejects this presumption, she actually was once friends with Tamira, but dropped her so she could fit in with the local white kids. Now Tamira is a loner who dresses like a goth. But there's more to Tamira's isolation. She carries around a jar which she claims houses the spirit of the Pishach, a demon from Hindi mythology that latches onto dark feelings and in the case of Tamira, loneliness. Lashing out at Tamira, Sam shatters the jar, unleashing a thick plume of smoke. When Tamira subsequently disappears and Sam starts having vivid nightmares, she begins to worry she might have released something worse than a few fumes from the jar.

Like its protagonist, It Lives Inside is torn between two cultures. It follows the well worn tropes of the American teen horror while injecting elements of Indian folklore. Too often the latter is spoken of rather than put on display, and the amount of exposition regarding Indian mythology tells you the movie wants to make sure it doesn't isolate its primary western audience.

It Lives Inside review

When Dutta does veer away from the lessons on folklore he creates some decent set-pieces. The best of the bunch sees Joyce menaced by an unseen presence in her school after hours. Dutta makes good use of the always unsettling effect of motion sensor lights turning on seemingly by themselves, but what's interesting about the sequence is that Joyce doesn't share Sam's particular belief in the Pishach, but like they say, there are no atheists in foxholes, or in creepy school corridors.

With her expressive eyes tasked with conveying much of Sam's terror, Suri helps to ground the film and coalesce the culturally specific tale into a universally recognisable story of teenage angst. Bajwa is very good as her mother, and there are touching moments late on as the two bond despite accepting that they're essentially products of two very different cultures.

It Lives Inside review

At a certain point It Lives Inside begins to strain credulity however. Not with its supernatural elements but with its representation of how this scenario would play out in real life. When Sam's white boyfriend is killed by an unseen spirit in her presence, Dutta gives us a shot of a group of white folks giving Sam and her parents the evil eye, yet there's no follow-up to this. We never see how she's subsequently treated in school, and neither the police nor her parents display any interest in interrogating Sam about the incident.

Of course, if you're a seasoned horror fan you'll have learned to shrug off such inconsistencies and settle in for the thrills, of which there are just about enough here to make It Lives Inside an entertaining teen horror.

It Lives Inside
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from October 20th.

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