My favorite part of fall season is the mix of big franchise horror and indie horror. “It Lives Inside” is a one-off low budget film that is what many consider “elevated horror”. The story centers around Sam, an Indian-American teenager whose home life creates a cultural identity crisis. Her mother still clings to her heritage while her father has assimilated. Sam’s friend begins carrying around a mason jar at school, claiming to have captured a demonic entity. But when Sam breaks the jar, unexplainable events follow. Can Sam figure out what she’s released before it’s too late?
As much as I enjoy the bigger franchises, smaller horror films always showcase creativity in the genre. “It Lives Inside” is a fresh premise that borrows elements from other movies. It’s clear that the Indian culture was a big influence on the story. I enjoyed seeing how the demon in the film was directly tied to Indian lore and how it fed on the character’s loneliness. The idea that Sam and Tamira felt isolated in society where one of them was trying to fit in more than the other was a unique touch to the story. It made the entity’s presence more intimidating and thoughtful when it was finally revealed. The cultural confusion Sam is feeling provides a nice insight to the audience as to how her everyday life is. This was especially interesting due to the fragmented home life she had. Her cultural confusion makes sense since her mother is trying to maintain Indian tradition while her father is trying to integrate to their new life. Some interesting material to think about!
The movie looks nice as well. The color grading and imagery adds to the tone of the film and highlights the cultural symbolism placed throughout the story. Young Megan Suri gives a good performance and conveys her cultural fragments well. Although I wish we saw more of the demon throughout the story, it was very creepy and was unsettling since we didn’t know where it was hiding most of the time.
As I left my screening of the film, I can’t help but wonder what this could have been. There were so many opportunities to make it scarier and avoid ridiculous plot points that hold horror films back. But unfortunately, this one suffers many of those issues. The film feels neutered to fit a PG-13 rating, mostly avoiding onscreen violence and tempering scares with a threshold. With an indie horror story likely having a niche audience anyway, swing for the fences and go bold! This isn’t a film teenagers will likely see anyway, so why not lean into the terror more?
A huge plot hole that bugged me by the end was the selective victims. Spoiler, not everyone in the film survives! But certain characters should have been killed by the demon and somehow end up surviving a grueling attack, while others suffer a similar attack and die. This happened multiple times, leaving me to believe that certain characters had unlimited plot armor. The tone is also a missed opportunity. I didn’t feel a lingering sense of dread or uncertainty for most of the film. If anything, I’d say the film is quite dull overall. There were so many opportunities to build suspense, but the film instead chooses to explore more of the cultural implications rather than make a scary film. Opportunities were there to do both, but unfortunately this aspect was a letdown.
“It Lives Inside” could have been a great film that stood out amongst a genre filled with franchises. But instead of making a scary film with a unique cultural bend, it feels a bit plain. I’d say this is an interesting story that is a missed opportunity overall. Check it out on streaming if you’re a fan of indie horror films, but otherwise I don’t think this is a necessary watch come Halloween season.