This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Supernatural horror is enjoying its time in the spotlight in the last decade, with numerous titles scoring big at the box office and bringing in a new era of ghosts and ghouls that haunt our nightmares. The haunted house has been reinvented to encompass haunted people, characters that carry their demons with them and must fight them wherever they go.
Premiering at FrightFest this year, Bishal Dutta's It Lives Inside is another offering that tackles the notion of a protagonist grappling with internal and external battles, though it offers a refreshing break away from the overwhelmingly white, Western cast and crew that are behind many of the genre's biggest titles.
It Lives Inside follows Samidha (Megan Suri), an Indian-American teenager struggling with her cultural identity and clashing with her family, notably her mother Poorna (Neeru Bajwa) as she strays further away from her Indian heritage. In a bid to stop feeling othered at school, she distances herself from her best friend Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) in favour of the popular crowd. In doing so, she pushes Tamira to unwittingly release an evil entity that wreaks havoc in their small town.
The film offers little to shout about in terms of its scares, but where Dutta's mastery of horror shows is how he creates a tremendously tense atmosphere through the character's relationships and battles with their own personal demons. On their own, the shadowy figure of the Pishach and the low lighting are commonplace within horror, but the care and craft that goes into sculpting the sinister tone of the film elevate them to new heights.
Much of the horror within the film comes from the fact that Sam and her peers are battling with an unseen force, and the decision to keep the demon hidden for much of the film is one that ratchets up the anxiety and its actions become more and more violent. When we are finally treated to the final reveal, the culminating scenes are worth the wait as the true, hideous nature of the Pishach comes to light.
Through the demon and the horrors the teens face, Dutta also gives a voice to the anxieties immigrants feel surrounding their second-generation children and their cultural identity, weaving in emotional moments between Sam and her family that compel her to come to terms with her heritage and shape it to work for her, rather than those around her.
Suri's portrayal of Sam is truly marvellous as she painstakingly grapples with what it means to be a second-generation immigrant while also tackling the horrors of being a teenage girl – truly one of the most horrifying experiences on this Earth. Similarly, Krishnan stuns as Tamira, the outcast and abandoned friend harbouring hatred and hurt that is palpable in each scene.
In the process, it introduces a global audience to a fresh set of rituals and demons that they may otherwise not be acquainted with if they are not familiar with Indian culture of the Hindu religion while telling a story that many Indian Americans may be able to identify.
It Lives Inside shows that fear transcends all cultures, and uses a creature common in folklore to explore the immigrant experience through poignant interactions and terrifying visuals that are sure to give audiences a real good scare.
It Lives Inside had its European Pemires at FrightFest 2023 on August 25. It will be released in UK Cinemas on September 22.