Synopsis: An Indian-American teenager struggling with her cultural identity has a falling out with her former best friend and, in the process, unwittingly releases a demonic entity that grows stronger by feeding on her loneliness.
Stars: Megan Suri, Neeru Bajwa, Mohana Krishnan, Vik Sahay, Gage Marsh, Beatrice Kitsos, Betty Gabriel
Director: Bishal Dutta
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: As I sit here a week away from a landmark high school reunion, I was thinking back at how relatively simple we had it when I graduated at the end of last century. Email was becoming a must-have accessory (@hotmail.com thank you!), Netscape Navigator was the browser of choice, and leaving your AOL-IM on all night just in case someone you’d been crushing on logged in and messaged you wasn’t out of the ordinary. Now, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back and suffer the high school experience. There’s too much pressure between home and school responsibilities, not to mention the social hierarchy that must be sidewinded daily.
Plenty of memorable movies have been made about clawing your way toward being an upperclassman, and a fair share of them have been in the horror genre, but what sets the good ones apart (think Carrie) is how they can remain timeless. Yes, Brian de Palma’s Carrie may have funky fashion, but aside from that, it could take place now. That feeling of aging well surrounds It Lives Inside by director Bishal Dutta. While it’s nothing wholly original and isn’t going to wind up sitting on a high shelf next to the true greats, it’s a fiery good time that delivers its promised scares amidst a spooky mood not reliant on traditional tropes. You’ll be able to revisit this one in a decade, and I feel it will hold up remarkably well.
Samidha (Megan Suri, Missing) is a typical teenager who would rather hang out with her friends than lean into her Indian heritage. While her father is more open to letting his American-born daughter find her path, her concerned mother (an excellent Neeru Bajwa) prefers to keep tradition alive. When Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), Samidha’s classmate and sole other Indian American student, shows up to school carrying a creepy mason jar that we see her dropping raw meat into, we can understand why Samidha broke ties with her to protect her social reputation.
Yet Tamira needs Samidha’s help because only the former friends can understand how their culture plays a part in the danger Tamira has harnessed in the icky but seemingly innocuous jar she’s protecting. It’s soon too late as the jar breaks and brings forth an evil force that gains power by targeting the vulnerabilities both teens are trying to hide. As an ancient entity casts its shadow over Samidha’s family, friends, and a well-meaning teacher (Betty Gabriel, The Purge: Election Year, playing the pseudo-Betty Buckley character from Carrie), she’ll need to rely on the trust, teachings, and protection of the one person she struggles to connect with the most.
Part creature feature and part cult thriller, It Lives Inside often takes the easy path to glory in each subgenre and easily crosses the finish line. If Dutta’s script (co-written by Ashish Mehta) isn’t the most challenging of material and can feel a tad reductive, it at least puts an Indian American story front and center for a genre that is often homogenous. And it’s scary too! Working with a limited budget, Dutta stretches the cash a long way, and the results are solid, though you’ll need to decide for yourself how successful the final act is when the curtain is finally pulled back on the Big Nasty.
Had this not been PG-13 (and I’m not advocating for every horror movie needing to be R and gory), I think It Lives Inside might have had a certain cult appeal, at least on the home video market, where most viewers will likely catch it. There’s a bit of holding back where violence is concerned, which can be refreshing, but here you wish Dutta had allowed himself (or the producers had allowed him) to go as far out with his ideas as he wanted.