By Naomi Roper
Samidha (Megan Suri) just wants to be the same as everyone else. In her all-American high school, she doesn’t want to be the girl who speaks Hindi, wants to be known as Sam rather than her given name, doesn’t want to be the girl whose mother rarely speaks English and makes her curry for lunch, the girl who celebrates Indian religious festivals. Samidha doesn’t want to be different. What she definitely doesn’t want is to be associated with Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), her former bestie and the only other Indian-American girl at her school who she dropped as soon as she realised that hanging with the white cool kids was better for her social currency. Tamira is clearly going through it having taken to carrying around a glass jar of dirt and looking like the walking dead. When Sam loses her temper and smashes the jar she soon realises that some myths are based on reality.
It Lives Inside is a tale of a woman trapped between two worlds. Sam wants the bland all-Americanness of her high school and her cute boyfriend Russ (Gage Marsh) and actively rejects her parents and their adherence to their culture. It doesn’t matter that her parents seem surprisingly cool (no cliche representation of rigidly patriarchal Indian parents here) or that her mother makes awesome food (I have never been so hungry watching a movie). All “Sam” wants is to distance herself from her heritage only to find that you can’t run from who you are.
Bishal Dutta’s film (he directs and co-writes with Ashish Mehta) is part mother/daughter relationship drama/part monster movie. Dutta elicits fine performances from his cast particularly Megan Suri as Sam who we see accept her heritage and grow into her power as the movie progresses. Neeru Bajwa is also heartrending as Sam’s mum Poorna. Poorna may be (as Sam mockingly calls her at one point) “a Desi housewife” but when her child is threatened Poorna is a formidable force to be reckoned with. Betty Gabriel (Get Out) provides fine support as a worried teacher.
It Lives Inside is a fine addition to the pantheon of creature features. As is often the way the scenes where we don’t see the monster are far more bone-chilling than when we do although the creature itself is a fine piece of FX work. From a horror perspective the movie is more invested with the horrors of a girl rejecting her cultural identity than cheap jump scares with something that dwells in the dark. As such It Lives Inside is something of a measured, frankly somewhat slow, affair which may frustrate viewers looking for a little more monster action. When it comes to horror, It Lives Inside is almost bloodless save for one memorably horrific sequence.
It Lives Inside is an engaging mother/daughter tale that also happens to feature a soul-sucking demonic entity.
It Lives Inside screened at the Fantasia International Film festival and is set to be released in the US on 22 September 2023 by Neon. It will have its UK premiere at Frightfest.