“There’s something in here… You can’t see it… But… It lives inside.”
Sam (Megan Suri) is desperate to fit in at school, rejecting her Indian culture and family to be like everyone else. When a mythological demonic spirit latches onto her former best friend (Mohana Krishnan), she must come to terms with her heritage in order to defeat it.
With It lives inside, Bishal Dutta offers a rare American horror film that really scares the shit out of its viewers. A well-crafted film that pushes the genre beyond simple horror.
If there’s one thing It lives inside does well, it’s to scare. I almost finished the film with the lights on. In the end, I waited until afterwards, but you can be sure I didn’t fall asleep right away. I turned on the lights and changed my mind.
There are three elements that contribute to making this film so scary: the image, the sound, and Megan Suri.
Dutta doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but he and his team use the elements efficiently. The image, created by Matthew Lynn, is dark, the majority of the film taking place in half-light. This makes good use of orange when we find ourselves in the demon’s lair. The effect is successful, since not only does it give the impression that the victim is in hell, but it also creates a stylistic break in the film. As for the sound, it’s the sound work associated with this spirit that’s chilling. Cracking, tearing and gasps create a sense of anticipation in the viewer. And they are not disappointed.
Then there’s the performance of young Megan Suri. She succeeds admirably in conveying fear to the viewer.
To create his story, the director has drawn on his Indian culture to bring out a mythical creature, a kind of soul devourer that survives on the negative thoughts of its victims. The director succeeds in creating a perfect narrative and visual buildup with his creature, which is suggested at the outset and then quietly let itself be seen. The final moment is a success, both visually and audibly.
He completes the horror with a typical immigrant family story, as the child, born in the U.S., wants to free herself from the culture of her parents – especially the mother – who is attached to their culture of origin.
As a North American viewer, it’s particularly interesting to see the cultural elements, including the Durga Puja. The family also presents a traditional perspective, with the father working and the mother staying at home, but shows a father who is very present and close to his daughter. He seems to be the one who understands his daughter best, while the mother is shown as the one who wants to bring up her daughter in Indian culture the most.
Few horror films from the United States are worth watching. The art of horror cinema has been lost as access to digital technology has evolved. Occasionally, a little gem manages to appear. Last year, it was Deadstream. This year it’s It lives inside.
I’ve covered it here as part of Fantasia, but the film will be hitting screens in the next few weeks. Don’t miss it if you like to be scared. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come along that often.
It lives inside screens at Fantasia on August 7, 2023.
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