It Lives Inside has moments that play within the well-trod monster horror. However, the most compelling aspects transform this story beyond this. It soars a little higher through direction, performances, and diverse characters. Thankfully, it’s not the outcast trying to fit in tale or the popular kid who used to be unpopular. Rather, It Lives Inside looks at struggling with two identities: insecurity and even shame of being different. So, it’s as much the constant battle toward self-acceptance as it is horror. Direction builds tension throughout and creates a monster flick with purpose.
Directed by Bishal Dutta and written by Dutta and Ashish Mehta, the film focuses on Samidha (Megan Suri). But it starts with a frightening introduction to what lies ahead. Then, the film cuts to Samidha shaving her arms before taking a selfie. With no dialogue, the movie highlights her insecurity with her appearance. It Lives Inside excels at show and not tell with individuals and family dynamics.
Samidha clashes with her mom, Poorna (Neeru Bajwa). Although the family plans to host an Indian celebration soon, but that’s low on Samidha’s priorities. Her dad, Inesh (Vik Sahay), tries to ease the tension. But it translates to Poorna looking like the bad guy. Of the trio, Samidha balks at anything connected to her Indian culture. Meanwhile, her father feels more indifferent to it. But the danger takes center stage when Samidha accidentally unleashes something after clashing with her former best friend Tamira (Mohana Krishnan).
Lead Performances Hold the Story Together
Affection for characters is not a prerequisite for entertaining horror flicks. However, the additional layer builds investment and stakes. Megan Suri balances the emotional intricacies. She shows Samidha’s struggles with her identity and the pressures of acceptance. Neeru Bajwa does superb work, too. Bajwa demonstrates frustration with a child who seems embarrassed by her culture and, by extension, her family. Yet she also shows the pain and hurt.
Betty Gabriel plays Samidha’s Black teacher, Joyce. She does not take the role in most horror films. Joyce does not doubt her student throughout the movie. Seeing the person the lead goes to for help hinder or exacerbate the danger is annoying. But Joyce seeks to help Samidha and Tamira. It’s refreshing in the most enjoyable way. Thanks to her performance, Joyce is a character everyone wants to survive. It Lives Inside does diversity without forcing it. It’s seamless and natural.
It Lives Inside Uses Small Moments To Capture Dual Identity
From shaving her arms to sniffing her clothing, the film shows the harm of microaggressions. Often, people who are not the societal default learn through society to suppress anything seen as “other.” The film demonstrates this through Samidha’s actions and interactions with white students. The clearest example is her supposed best friend.
Furthermore, it highlights the casual ignorance of these offensive moments. The close-ups of Samidha capture the anger. But underneath, there is pain and insecurity. All this for merely existing. The universality and specificity of Indian culture and experiences align with the horror. The film crafts a familiar yet surprising tale.
It Lives Inside is another great horror film this year. It hits the mark with scary moments and nuanced ties to the monster. Plus there’s the sense of isolation as a teen pretzels herself to belong. There’s more than enough room in the horror pantheon for new villains and monsters. Remakes are tiresome. Introducing fresh scares with new stories revitalizes the genre. It also rejuvenates fans who have seen it all. It Lives Inside is a bloody fresh spring to the sea of horror.
*This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.