Review: It Lives Inside
While A24 has been the star child of independent distribution for the past decade, Neon has quietly existed alongside it. While not quite attaining the same name recognition, it has also produced and distributed many notable prestige independent cinema works since its founding back in 2017. Notable titles in their repertoire include I, Tonya, Parasite, Triangle of Sadness, and Infinity Pool. Of course, like A24, not every film from Neon is excellent.
There are many admirable things about It Lives Inside. A horror film through the lens of the Indian-American experience is not something we see in theaters every day. That the film actually spends lots of time highlighting the filmmaker’s culture is a nice touch. Many lingering shots of Indian food adorning the breakfast and dinner tables, of home decorations of Vishnu, and of scenes highlighting Hindu festivals show the passion director Bishal Dutta has for his culture. The film also speaks to the alienation someone with a given cultural background might feel in America, and why they might reject someone they share a culture with because of feeling ostracized.
Unfortunately, the film delivers these themes and ideas with all the subtleness and uniqueness of a Craftsman hammer. It Lives Inside may highlight demons unique to the Hindu religion, but Dutta is overly indebted to many other films from the last few years. The film plays like a mishmash of It Follows, The Badadook, The Ring, and even this year’s Smile and The Boogeyman. None of those films invented the metaphor of a monster standing in for grief, isolation, or anger, but It Lives Inside feels completely played-out by comparison.
The script is rote and simplistic. It sets up a conflict between the protagonist, Sam (played by Megan Suri), and her mother’s controlling behavior, as well as Sam’s struggle to feel accepted by her more conventionally-American classmates. But none of this is developed very satisfyingly. Most of the screentime is dedicated to scenes that are competent, if not terribly inspired, horror scenes wherein the film’s demonic antagonist, the Piscach, stalks its prey. Dutta does little to distinguish himself from a bevy of horror directors out there, and most of the scares rely on the cast’s admittedly expressive faces and screams to generate scares. He also makes the mistake of mostly showing what his creature looks like, which inevitably lessens the scares immediately, as it looks like a bland, CGI reptilian thing and not a primordial being of our terrors.
The film is a frustrating experience, as there was plenty of potential for something better. Had the characters received actual in-depth treatment, where the conflict between Sam and her mom had progression and meaningfully-written conflict instead of repetitive scenes of the two shouting at each other and the mother being unnecessarily domineering for no apparent reason, this movie could have resounded much better. The conflict and guilt Sam might feel about rejecting her fellow Indian friend, one she’d had since childhood, might also have been interesting to explore. But instead, it receives about one scene of meaningful exploration wherein Sam is forced to deliver exposition to a boy we know basically nothing about. Forced scenes like this that drag down a film that had interesting ideas.
It Lives Inside stands out beside some lesser horror. It’s always good to see major American films embracing foreign language and subtitles, and there is a healthy amount of Hindi dialogue in this one. But the sad dichotomy is that, for all the unique cultural touchstones, this movie has rote direction and writing choices. Dutta has potential but will need to step it up with his next feature if he wants to take his filmmaking to the next level.