It’s really hard being a teenager and I can only imagine it’s even harder to be an American teenager. The whole high school experience sounds exhausting, but director Bishal Dutta takes it to a whole new level with their debut feature It Lives Inside.
Samidha is an Indian-American teenager trying to navigate everyday life. Her mother is traditional, only speaking to her in their native language while Samidha’s father is more lenient and has assimilated to American culture.
Samidha’s former best friend Tamira begins to act weird at school, carrying around an empty mason jar. Tamira is convinced it houses a terrifying, ancient demon and when Samidha breaks the jar in anger, it seems to latch on to Tamira, who disappears.
It Lives Inside unfolds like your usual teen horror about demonic possession. Samidha begins to experience nightmares and soon her waking life is also interrupted by terrifying visions and demonic occurrences.
Dutta’s film wants to desperately examine the pull Samidha feels between the two cultures she lives in-between. Desperate to fit in, Samidha only speaks English but in order to live through an encounter with an ancient demon, she will have to come to terms with her heritage. It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it is fun to see such a traditional horror told from such a unique perspective.
But that traditionality is also the film’s biggest flaw. The audience can see each and every scare coming from a mile away and It Lives Inside is never scary or shocking enough to become memorable. With such a dire need for representation of any kind in Hollywood, Dutta settles for being a bit basic when it could have been extraordinary.
There is still much to enjoy in It Lives Inside. The dynamic cinematography is a joy and there’s a nice rhythm to the film. It never feels rushed; scenes unravel organically and the film is at its best when it focuses on Samidha’s inner conflict.
Megan Suri, who had a small part in Missing, is compelling as Samidha. Neeru Bajwa and Vik Sahay are also excellent as her parents and the trio create a lived-in dynamic between them that feels particularly authentic. Get Out star Betty Gabriel appears as Samidha’s understanding teacher, but her role is mostly limited to exposition.
The demon itself is a horrifying, ghastly sight, in the best way possible. One of the best scenes in the film involves Gabriel’s Joyce encountering the demon in a mirror in the dark before being chased through the school. Although It Lives Inside doesn’t have enough scenes like this (or victims, for that matter), Dutta makes the most out of these scenes. Another standout scene turns a character into a human rag doll.
It Lives Inside never quite finds a second gear and never rises to the occasion. It’s still a wickedly fun twist on a familiar genre, with some old-fashioned, but effective spooks.