It Lives Inside is the directorial debut of Bishal Dutta, and focuses on Hindu faith and mythology in order to offer horror fans something they haven’t seen before.
The story begins, as many horror films do, with a dark, dilapidated house. Blood and bodies fill the rooms and hallways as the camera slowly tracks through the building, the sound of panicked shouting and screams coming from further into the building. Some unseen force causes death and destruction, before a black smoke is trapped inside a jar by a dying figure.
Weeks later we meet Samira ‘Sam’ (Megan Suri), a high school student of Indian heritage who seems to be trying to deny parts of herself in order to fit into the very white, very American school she attends; much to the dismay of her mother Poorna (Neeru Bajwa) who celebrates her culture and heritage, and her tired father Inesh (Vik Sahay) who just wants a quiet, happy home life. At school, Sam sees the only other Indian girl, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) lurking around the buildings, hiding at the back of rooms, looking dishevelled and tired, carrying around a strange jar.
Sam and Tamira used to be friends, but in her attempt to fit in, Sam left Tamira behind and the two of them grew apart. However, when a frantic Tamira tries to come to Sam for help, Sam smashes the jar she’s carrying in a moment of anger. Now it appears that Sam has unleashed some terrible entity from within the jar, an entity that takes Tamira and vanishes. Blaming herself for what happened, Sam tries to get to the bottom of what might have happened with the help of her crush, Russ (Gage Marsh), and her teacher Joyce (Betty Gabriel). However, when the dark entity turns its sights on Sam, she will have to fight just to survive.
For those who have grown tired of the same kinds of ghost stories, or have gotten bored of demons from hell and Christian mythology dominating the world of horror, It Lives Inside offers something a bit different. Drawing upon the stories of the Pishach, a malevolent entity from both Hindu and Buddhist myths, the film creates an antagonist that feels familiar in some ways, yet is fresh and interesting at the same time. The film’s monster works by isolating its victims, slowly driving them further into desperation, making them question if what’s happening to them is real or not.
Whilst this isn’t something new to the genre by any means, it’s the small differences that make the film stand out. The fact that the majority of those watching the film who aren’t familiar with Hinduism will likely never have heard of a Pishach will help with this greatly. The rules aren’t known to the audience, and we learn along with Sam how the monster works, and what it is. Being kept on the back foot certainly keeps your attention and interest, even if the film itself doesn’t do too much different to most other supernatural horror films.
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One of the ways in which the film feels like it could have further set itself apart is by going further into the themes of assimilation. Sam is pretty much the only Indian member of the cast who doesn’t embrace her culture. Her mother is staunchly for tradition, she maintains values that mean a lot to her and have been passed down through the family, and their community means a lot to her. These are all things that Sam rejects through most of the film. The fact that it’s these traditions and that culture that ultimately come to aid her makes a big point of assimilation vs embracing your family roots. It also feels like something of a misstep for the film to be set in a mostly white place, with people suspicious of non-white characters, and for that to never really seem to come up when Sam is at the centre of the murder of a white person.
Despite feeling different in some ways, It Lives Inside plays it fairly safe in others. The story follows an expected structure for a supernatural horror, we get settings and locations that we’ve seen in other movies, and there’s little visually in the movie that feels fresh or unique. In many ways, the film feels like it’s trying to play it safe and simple, and after the interest of seeing an Indian-led narrative wears off there’s not a huge amount to the film that will remain distinct enough to be really remembered.
It Lives Inside is out in cinemas from 22nd October.