de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

In recent years, the horror genre has experienced a renaissance in terms of multicultural representation within its previously restrictive space; different ethnic groups are emerging into the forefront of horror, sharing their various monsters and mythologies with a much larger audience, and Bishal Dutta’s It Lives Inside is only the latest example of this all-important inclusivity. The film follows Indian American high schooler Samidha (Megan Suri), who consistently struggles with her cultural and religious identity in a predominantly white town and faces criticism from her traditional mother, Poorna (Neeru Bajwa). When another Indian girl, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), shows up to school with a strange jar, nervously muttering about monsters, Samidha inadvertently unleashes a terrifying evil that begins to make her life a living hell. It sounds like a familiar concept because it is—although Dutta makes the most of it to deliver some effective scares and propel Indian culture into the box office, It Lives Inside threatens to become just another conventional monster movie due to some poor structural decisions.

It Lives Inside - Tamira

The focal antagonist of this story is the Pishacha (learn more at Bloody-Disgusting or the Cryptid Wiki), something of an emotional vampire that feeds off of negative energy, slowly tormenting its victims until it is ready to destroy them entirely. The knowledgeable can trap the Pishacha in a vessel, temporarily liberating themselves of its terrible influence. Otherwise, the entity will manipulate its victims and hurt those who attempt to help them. It Lives Inside showcases these behaviors well as Samidha takes on the burden of the Pishacha from her former best friend, Tamira, and her life gradually worsens until the film’s reasonably predictable climax.

From the viewer’s perspective, it is easy to sympathize with Samidha’s—and, by proxy, her family’s—suffering. Meanwhile, Dutta and cinematographer Matthew Lynn utilize the menacing Pishacha sparingly, stowing it away in dark corners and off-camera until the time is right to reveal its gruesome, well-designed visage. They also space the scares apart adequately, which, compared to The Nun II’s far too frequent gimmicks, reintroduces a proper sense of suspense to theaters this fall season.

As a non-Indian and somebody not very familiar with Hinduism, it is difficult to speak on the level of accuracy It Lives Inside provides regarding its portrayal of the people and their religion. However, the Indian creators and primarily Indian cast establish an air of authenticity around the immigrant experience in America, highlighting Samidha’s efforts to fit in with a far different demographic than her parents are used to and their incredibly high expectations for their daughter. Samidha initially rejects Hindi rituals like the puja until she realizes that accepting her unique background is central to her identity. But while the filmmakers approach the monster and the Indian and Hindi elements with fairly deft brush strokes, the film’s meat is far too standard to allow It Lives Inside to stand out amongst its contemporaries.

The biggest sin of It Lives Inside is that if you have seen Rob Savage’s 2023 reimagining, The Boogeyman, or—let’s face it—any other supernatural creature feature from the past five or six years, you’ve essentially seen this movie. Its structure is shockingly standard, introducing the evil in question, allowing it to infest the protagonist’s life enough to cause ruination in their personal or professional life, and tear down their relationships with friends, families, and lovers until a mentor or scholar (in this case, Betty Gabriel’s teacher character, Joyce) assists them with the necessary research (and subsequent exposition) to help take down the monster or entity in an exciting final battle.

It Lives Inside adheres to this stock story composition and is far duller because of it, shutting itself off from any intriguing twists and turns or character arcs. For a theatrical horror release, this execution plays as expected for the typical moviegoing crowd, where the “good guy” trudges through the anticipated trials and tribulations until coming out on top due to the power of family, friendship, or faith. Still, for a Neon distribution and a genre flick that has the opportunity to present Indian and Hindi culture to an expansive range of viewers, the excessively safe and cliched formatting is disappointing. Regardless, It Lives Inside surprises with an atypical monster from the Mahabharata, intentional suspense, and solid performances from its principal cast—but just like Samidha’s parents feared for their daughter, it is doomed to homogenize with The Boogeyman and other suburban supernatural monster flicks like it thanks to its unfortunately samey nature.