It Lives Inside Review

It Lives Inside
It Lives Inside
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The cultural peculiars of It Lives Inside make it a unique specimen in the horror genre. Conversely, these themes become merely an appendage of an insipid teenage thriller and present themselves in overly simple forms. With Samidha or “Sam” (Megan Suri), a typical Indian American teenager, and her problematic ex-bestie Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) whose invisibility demon tags along with them as they try to adapt, It Lives Inside is a metaphor that seems random at best if not blatantly offensive.

In this regard, Dutta tries to blend diverse Indian and American film influences but his first feature ends up with predictable images and ideas that barely match. For example, the opening scenes consist of burnt and mutilated bodies in a suburban home bathed in red light only for It Lives Inside to turn into another banal trope-laden trip. From time to time, it feels like a 101 course on being Indian-American where we are introduced to characters such as Sam by her regular act of shaving off her body hair before leaving lunch behind when going to school supposedly avoiding taunting by white classmates. These experiences are authentic but we rarely see Sam interacting with people other than the main actors hence their irrelevance to the plot.

It can’t help but play like a parody of other recent South Asian American movies and shows shouldering the responsibility of encapsulating a vast and varied cultural experience (like Netflix’s Never Have I Ever, in which Suri also appears). These experiences happen separately sometimes whereby some even have fades or black cuts rather than organic or rhythmic transitions thereby killing whatever little suspense exists there.

After briefly suggesting Sam’s issues with Poorna(her immigrant mother whom she fights with), played by Neeru Bajwa whose face remains scowling throughout while completely refusing any language except Hindi; the movie starts when weirdly behaving Tamira is introduced who carries a jar filled with smoke, and is not serious. This is hardly Krishnan’s fault. She seems to perform the character as written: a girl with idiosyncrasies, and unkempt hair that covers her face. Dutta practically models her off the Bollywood bhootni, or female ghost, a worn-out archetype whose defining characteristics are her Ringu-like locks and an empty, tilted-forward gaze. (Think the “Kubrick stare” but without intensity or meaning.) There isn’t anything even slightly eerie about Tamira as a character whose problems should be hidden or kept in check, bubbling under while all her gestures and words try too hard to be strange for teasing purposes like Carrie (only without any emotional appeal). The film comes close to being a parody yet again.

When Tamira mysteriously disappears, it’s up to Sam alone to fit together the pieces using hints from some weird diary she was in possession of. With the help of her teacher, Joyce (Betty Gabriel), and her classmate and wannabe boyfriend, Russ (Gage Marsh), soon reveals a hidden demon who eats raw meat and can only be captured in a container, whether that means an object or person. And so begins their shopworn quest that starts with research by Sam, Joyce, and Russ – Google searches? O Yes. Haunted house visits? Those too – end with wordy explanations about what this demon does. On one hand, there are some vague descriptions about how this presence consumes isolation and self-loathing (the real demon is depression), but on the other what goes unrecognized by either the filmmakers or fails to fully confront is how this metaphor or (to borrow a term coined by critic Charles Bramesco) is introduced.

There are speculations that this demon may have tormented different inhabitants of the Indian American community following an immigrant family from the subcontinent. (One wonders if it had to wait in the immigration queue at JFK.) This makes it hard not to see Indianness itself as representing the demon; though I am not sure whether the movie fully reckons with this notion.

This film has boiling over its melting pot approach when indeed defeating the demon necessitates particular Hindu cultural rituals including mantras as well but deployed much like Christian rituals also seen in The Exorcist. There is no problem with any single idea here but how all these ideas have been handled jointly. While Indian American horror contemporaries such as Evil Eye folded into deeply personal stories which also rooted their fears in Hindu concepts, ideas of what people leave behind when they emigrate; It Lives Inside bites off far more than it can chew as regards symbolic meaning in my opinion. For instance, clues and discoveries will hopscotch past with Hindu connotations that are not focused on long enough to resonate; many things are depicted but not explored. If it weren’t for Suri’s sincerity and intensity, this would feel like nothing more than one in a series of Instagram graphics explaining the basics of Hinduism to someone who has never heard of Diwali.

Moreover, who does this “representation” represent as it is a bit difficult? The film can also be seen as an uncaring echo of the ills India has undergone both historically and in social terms. What might seem like an unspecificity regarding both characters and their culture feels latent and faltering, but their religious practices and the names of their friends (their own family name is not mentioned) show enough signs of belonging to the upper caste Brahmin community that most other castes are below them on the social ladder, not to mention their being vegetarians (another recognizable trait of Brahiminism). This idea is far from value-neutral, especially given that the monster is characterized by its propensity for meat eating – an act shunned by people belonging to “upper” castes because it exposes them to “lower” caste contamination.


Though It Lives Inside yearns for a specific cultural experience, it does not have the skill nor does it use artistic flair well enough to constitute a good horror movie based on these experiences. All this gives us the impression that we have here is something like an Indian American genre film; however, all its genre constituents are too much known even separately from each other and there is lack of tension or symbolic meaning.

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