It Lives Inside (2023) Review
Billed as being “From The Producers Of Get Out” and similarly touching on issues of race and culture It Lives Inside, not to be confused with the 2018 film of the same name, was bound to attract attention when it debuted at SXSW. The fact that it continued to draw attention as the festival season went on raised my curiosity about it.
Samidha (Megan Suri, Never Have I Ever, The Miseducation of Bindu), Sam to her friends, Simply wants to fit in with the other kids in her suburban neighbourhood, Russ (Gage Marsh, You Me Her, Riceboy Sleeps). That means trying to juggle acting like one of the gang and her mother Poorna’s (Neeru Bajwa, Christmas Time Is Here, Criminal) attempts to keep her connected to her Indian roots.
There’s also the issue of Tamira (Mohana Krishnan, I Am Frankie, Spinner). They used to be best friends but have taken very different paths through their teen years. That doesn’t stop her strange actions from rubbing off on Sam. When their teacher Joyce (Betty Gabriel, Beyond Skyline, The Spine of Night) asks Sam to check up on her, neither of them can foresee the horrific chain of events that is about to be set into motion.
First time feature director Bishal Dutta (Triads, Millennia Man) and co-writer Ashish Mehta (Hush Hush) aren’t coy about their demon, known as a Pischcha. We know from the film’s start that it exists and it lives inside the blackened mason jar that Tamira carries with her. So when Sam, in an act that also serves as a metaphor for her wanting to discard her heritage, knocks it from the frightened girl’s hands we know that bad things are about to happen.
And it doesn’t take long before they do, making a nice change from genre films where we wait well into the film for anything frightening to occur. Here we have the demon stalking its victims by the end of the first act. And once it gets going, It Lives Inside quickly becomes an above average thriller that straddles two cultures with its story.
There’s a moment in It Lives Inside where Sam’s mother asks her why she wants to be one of “them”, and she counters by asking her mother why did she come to America if all she wanted to be was an Indian housewife. It’s a valid question, especially as her mother refuses to call anything but Samidha or speak anything but Hindi. Her father (Vik Sahhay, Captain Marvel, Wer) on the other hand calls her Sam and speaks to her in English.
And just as she has to navigate this divide at home, she’s going to have to find the balance between her heritage and her new homeland in order to try and stop the demon. She’ll have to look back into the culture she wants to leave behind to understand the Pischcha while fighting it in the suburban USA. Ironically we find out that it was that same disagreement about assimilating that caused the rift between Sam and Tamira to start with.
Unfortunately, for a film that puts so much effort into its characters’ cultural identities, It Lives Inside isn’t as good at defining its demon. It bears the name and some of the attributes of an Indian demon, but when we first see it the Pischcha looks and acts like it came from a Japanese film, all jerky movements and long black hair covering its face as it crawls towards its victim, all it needs is a TV set and it could have passed for Sadako.
For most of the film though, it’s nearly invisible, a vague shape with eyes glowing in the dark. Its actual form, when we finally get a good look at it is much more effective, almost skeletal, with claws and lots of large, sharp teeth. That form is also rendered with practical effects replacing the CGI used for its more nebulous early appearances.
While not on the level of Get Out, It Lives Inside is a superior thriller and a promising debut for Dutta and Mehta. It’s also a reminder that a horror film can have something to say without being preachy, and intelligent without being dull and elevated.