Wednesday, September 20, 2023

It Lives Inside

Horror movies are inclusive. Demons of any faith or tradition can be just as deadly, regardless of one’s personal beliefs. In this case, it is a pishacha, a soul- and flesh-eating demon of Hindu lore, running amok. That the last thing Sam wants to think about is an embarrassing legend from her parents’ homeland. The Americanized high school student has no use for those old stories, until she finds herself fighting a pishacha in director-screenwriter Bishal Dutta’s It Lives Inside, which opens Friday in theaters.

Sam appreciates her father’s successful career focus and contemporary attitude, but her mother’s incessant emphasis on tradition is a constant source of angsty teen embarrassment. She also dropped her grade school bestie, Tamira because of her inability to assimilate. Unfortunately, Tamira has not been doing well lately, so their cool teacher, Joyce, hopes Sam can reach out. Instead, she is appalled to see Tamira is bedraggled and unkempt, schlepping around a ratty, stinky jar. The disturbed Tamira is such a threat to her nouveau popularity, Sam pushes her away, breaking her nasty mason jar—at which point very bad things happen.

It turns out pishacha are a bit like djinn. You can biottle them up, but they still need to be fed blood regularly, or else. Now that this one is loose, she must trap it again. The good news is Russ, the jock Sam has had her eye on, is willing to help her find Tamira. Presumably, the pishacha has her stashed somewhere, so it can feed off her, until it totally consumes her life force.

It Lives Inside
is a high-quality horror production that is further distinguished by its use of Hindu legend. There are several seriously creepy sequences, but the pishacha never quite reaches the sinister heights of the scariest movie demons, like King Paimon in Hereditary or Valak in The Conjuring 2. It is more akin to the Nosferatu-like Dracula in Last Voyage of the Demeter—though certainly creepy, it won’t inspire lasting nightmares.

Dutta’s screenplay is also unvaryingly dark and serious. These kids don’t have much snarky sarcasm, but, admittedly, for a lot of grownups, that will be a heck of a recommendation. Be that as it may, Megan Suri and Gage Marsh are terrific as Sam and Russ, especially in their scenes together. They are generally smart and engaging kids, which is another highly valid basis for recommending
It Lives Inside.

The film proclaims its connection to the producers of
Get Out (Edward H. Hamm and Raymond Mansfield), but It Lives Inside is considerably scarier. However, it also features Blumhouse semi-regular Betty Gabriel (who co-starred in the Jordan Peele film), playing Joyce with the kind of grounded intelligence and intuitive sensitivity you rarely see from teachers in horror movies.

This is a solid horror film, in just about all respects, especially Matthew Lynn’s massively moody cinematography. Atmosphere definitely drives the terror more than violence, which is cool. Highly recommended for genre fans,
It Lives Inside opens in theaters this Friday, including the AMC Lincoln Square in New York.