An abundance of horror films have been released this Autumn, be it The Nun 2 or Saw X. We have seen crossover spooks between Indian culture and prominent US-based horror. For instance, Amazon Prime Video streamed Priyanka Chopra’s Evil Eye for OTT platforms and Neil Biswas’ Darkness Visible also had an independent release.
However, Bishal Dutta’s It Lives Inside aspires to mainstream collaboration, with the backing of studios like Neon. Given the current ongoing festivities of Navratri, which celebrates Goddess Durga defeating the evil Mahishasura, it is timely we are seeing a story based on Pishacha, a flesh-eating demon referenced in Dharmic faiths.
The premise revolves around Samidha aka Sam (Megan Suri) an Indian-American teen, who lives in an idyllic suburb with her overprotective mother, Poorna (Neeru Bajwa) and her assimilated father, Inesh (Vik Sahay). Sam’s cultural insecurities grow due to her estranged friend, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), who mysteriously carries around an empty mason jar all the time.
In anger, Sam breaks Tamira’s jar and unleashes an ancient Hindu demonic force that kidnaps Tamira. Sam searches for Tamira, following the trail of a young man who performed a deadly ritual, until the demonic entity starts targeting her, murdering her boyfriend and shattering her reality with terrifying visions. Sam with her parents and a sympathetic teacher Joyce (Betty Gabriel) fight together to save Tamira and put an end to the terror of the demon.
The East-West culture fusion is done quite well here. References to Sanskrit sholkas, and the significance of the Hindu faith, are all articulated well. One can appreciate the overall morality of how one should never forget their roots but perhaps the film falters in its lack of emotional depth. Sam has a dysfunctional bond with her mother which unfortunately is summarised within one dialogue exchange. Furthermore, the friendship between Sam and Tamira has paper-thin writing.
The direction, while shining in certain parts, slightly lacks reliability. For instance, there is a scene which is supposed to be a prayer session for Tamira. Here, there is party-like music which almost creates a wedding-like atmosphere and it just seems off. Also, the scenes on the ‘colourful’ food, seem like tropes to rehash the stereotypical appeal of Indian culture to Western audiences. The predictability of the story does not help its case much either.
Dutta, to an extent, succeeds in creating an eerie atmosphere. The looming camera shots, red gradient and shadows help tremendously in portraying the perils that await the characters. Certain camera shots also remind one of other classics like Evil Dead and IT. In fact, one particularly creepy instance is during a desolate school scene. Here, the wide shots of locker rooms and the darkness descending create a sense of panic. There are some gripping moments which make this worthwhile.
Neeru Bajwa, who makes her Hollywood debut, shines as the protective mother. After a breakthrough performance in Kali Jotta this year, she is natural here too. Once again, she champions a role where vulnerability becomes her strength. Never Have I Ever‘s Megan Suri also leaves an impact with her wide eyes, which convey fear and brokenness all at once. Mohana Krishnan and Betty Gabriel are also good. Vik Sahay is okay.
Despite its lacklustre writing, It Lives Inside presents a fresh package fusing Indian and American cultures. At a time when humans have shown a ghastly side, a horror film on internal conflict as a metaphor only makes this experience more spiritual and relevant. Perhaps going forward, tighter scripts and screenplays may make such collaborations more fruitful.
It Lives Inside will be in UK Cinemas from 20th October.