Sometimes, the monster we’re running from isn’t outside us at all.
It Lives Inside follows Samidha (Megan Suri)—or ‘Sam’—a teenage girl who desperately wants to be accepted in her high school, even if it means separating from her oldest friend, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan). To Sam’s friends, Tamira is that ‘weird kid’ who hides under the bleachers and keeps to herself, making her uncomfortable to be around. But, when Tamira approaches Sam and begs her for help, Sam soon finds herself under the influence of a mythological demonic spirit. Suddenly, Sam’s days become waking nightmares. So, she decides to step into her heritage in order to understand her new enemy and find peace.
Directed by Bishal Dutta, It Lives Inside is a terrifying journey into the soul. As his first venture into horror, Dutta lovingly embraces the tropes of the genre that have come before but still manages makes them his own. Although the beast remains largely unseen, he uses our fear of the unknown to create an ominous sense of dread. Strong use of the sound design creates general unease, leading to some genuine jump scares. Bleeding reds and flickering lights lean into the terror of the shadows. (In fact, it’s amazing what Dutta is able to accomplish with relatively limited special effects.) Although the beast rampages on, this is a film that maximizes the fear of invisible to keep the audience appropriately uncomfortable.
Beyond the horror though, Inside sets itself apart from other recent horror through its South Asian connections. Rooted in the stories of his childhood, Dutta gives this creature feature a cultural edge. While Inside’s terror has a universal feel, Sam’s journey carries with it a call to embrace her heritiage. Although her mother speaks Hindi at home, Sam resists. Speaking only in English, she almost seems embarrassed by her identity when around her friends at school. (In fact, even though they’re trying to be sensitive, her friends clearly have no frame of reference for her family traditions.) As she does battle with the beast, Sam is called to embrace her family’s history and step in to own a piece of her identity that she has neglected.
As such, Inside quickly becomes a film about finding inner peace. Without giving away too much, Sam is on the run from a monster that prays upon the darkness within. In this way, Inside recognizes that the anxieties, anger and hurts that we all experience create their own form of monsters. In turn, as they evade the mysterious beast, Sam, Tamira and the rest are also struggling to find peace within their soul.
After all, how can you contain the beast that plagues you unless you learn how to calm the storm within?
Terrifying and fun, there’s a lot to like about It Lives Inside. There’s a claustrophobic fury about this film that can truly take your breath away, even if it sometimes feels a little familiar. Even so, while Dutta may honour the past, he also creates his own truly unique experience that makes it worth discovering what Lives Inside.
It Lives Inside is available in theatres on Friday, September 22nd, 2023.