It Lives Inside
A lot of horror movies these days are built on themes of grief or guilt. That has been used successfully many times now to generate all sorts of intense internal/external terrors. The fairly routine horror/thriller It Lives Inside has a very different emotional core. It is about culture, tradition, family. Being true to who you really are and not ignoring where you come from just to fit in.
The main character is the teenage daughter of Indian immigrants who refuses to acknowledge her culture. She is ashamed because she is scared that the white kids will shun her for not being like them. So, she pretends that she is. That is complicated by the fact that she may have to embrace her Hindu roots in order to survive the danger she soon finds herself in. That aspect of the story is interesting.
The rest of It Lives Inside (94 minutes, minus the end credits) is a monster movie that has a few effectively creepy moments, but mostly relies on familiar tropes. There is a cool story somewhere in here that uses the culture and its myths to create something uniquely unsettling. Unfortunately, this screenplay introduces those ideas, then leans way too heavily on uninspired scenes of an invisible beast stalking its terrified prey. More of the former and less of the latter could have brought welcome drama and tension to the protagonist’s plight. In this form, it is pretty uneven, with a handful of strong bright spots and a bunch of derivative creature scenes that drag it down.
Sam (real name Samidha) is embarrassed by her parents’ devotion to their culture. She avoids them as much as possible in an effort to be a normal American teenager. When the Indian friend she abandoned asks her for help and Sam coldly rejects her, it begins a deadly ordeal that might force Sam back to her roots if she wants to make it out alive.
I will focus on the good stuff first. Writer/director Bishal Dutta treats Sam’s parents and their faith with respect. While the character is a rebellious teenager, the movie sees outside of her narrow viewpoint. Their traditions mean something to them and Sam’s refusal to follow along is hurtful. The imagery, language and myths used here have some weight to them. They would have had even more if Dutta’s screenplay gave them room to breathe. There is a sequence toward the end where Sam seeks her mother’s guidance that could have been powerful. However, the movie intercuts their activities with a dull monster attack and that sucks a lot of the meaning out of it.
The good movie involves Sam, her parents and a mythical evil connected somehow to their faith. The not so good one involves the beast (who can remain invisible if it wants, a detail that goes totally unremarked upon) menacing the community. If it destroys people by taking away their hope, before eating their souls, wouldn’t it make more sense to concentrate on a single person? Don’t give anyone else a reason to believe them, isolate, scare and devour. Instead, it hides in the darkness, pouncing and slashing. Occasionally, we get a brief look at it and that works well enough. Monsters tend to be more frightening when we only think we know what they look like. Some instances of people being thrown around by a mysterious force are scary. Yet there is way too much of that.
Someone should have convinced Dutta that the heart of his production was in the personal: the clash of cultures between parents and child. Though Sam is being hunted, her identity crisis is what is really hurting her. That material is engaging. It is buried in a run-of-the-mill genre entry. If it was the other way around, the genre material fit neatly into the family drama, we could have had something compelling. As is, this is a promising near miss.
2¾ out of 5
Megan Suri as Samidha
Neeru Bajwa as Poorna
Vik Sahay as Inesh
Mohana Krishnan as Tamira
Betty Gabriel as Joyce
Gage Marsh as Russ
Written and Directed by Bishal Dutta