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Supernatural Horror Meets Family Drama in 'It Lives Inside'

Image courtesy of NEON

By Josh Taylor

As two former friends talk in their high school locker room, a jar containing something evil becomes the focal point of their conversation…until it becomes more of a problem than anyone can handle. Bishal Dutta’s directorial feature film debut IT LIVES INSIDE mixes a supernatural tale about Hindi demons with family drama and it all feels like a great spinoff of something like Stranger Things. Samidha, or as she likes to go by, Sam (Megan Suri, Missing) is a teen girl just trying to fit in at her high school. She has a crush, is trying to make more friends, and is Americanizing herself as much as possible as she’s the first of her family to be born in America. Unfortunately, the old world has followed her, and some other Indian students, by way of a supernatural spirit looking to feed on souls. Neon has consistently been producing a ton of great films and I’d put it in the same conversations as A24 when it comes to understanding great stories and allowing creative people to tell their own story. IT LIVES INSIDE is another Neon film to add to the growing list of solid entries. Dutta’s writing and directing constantly feels like it’s tied to his personal experience. His background in short films and music videos adds a ton of atmosphere and understanding of how to get the most out of each frame. Choices in lighting, camera shots, and cuts all feel like they serve the story and build on the tension this movie delivers in spades.

Image courtesy of NEON

Megan Suri also delivers an impressive outing as our lead Sam. The relationship she has with her mother (Neeru Bajwa) doesn’t feel like the typical teen rebelling against her parents, especially since she has such a sweet connection with her father. (Vik Sahay). Suri delivers emotion around her desire to be American while also struggling with her Indian heritage and how isolated she feels as one of few Indian-American students at her school. The choices she makes as an actor are subtle but impactful. I understood who this character was in moments of silence. A great scene with her and her crush Russ (Gage Marsh) sitting on a swing set had me invested in her both her triumph and tragedy. The rest of the cast adds to the richness this film has to offer. Bajwa is best known for her work in Bollywood and she’s fantastic as Poorna, Sam’s mother. She comes across as caring, but also someone who isn’t always on the side of Sam. She’s a character you’ll have complex feelings about and I think that rings true for a lot of real family dynamics. Sahay’s fatherly role as Inesh is less prominent but he provides such a cozy warmth to the movie that I enjoyed his disruptions from the drama. Sweet and loving, the kind of dad who your friends all enjoy being around and I like that. He feels different to Bajwa’s Poorna but you can see why the two of them would naturally be great together as husband and wife. Betty Gabriel’s Joyce and Mohana Krishnan’s Tamira round out the main cast with performances that always feel believable. Gabriel’s high school teacher is the type of teacher you love to see. She listens to her students and takes them at their word, but also dishes out advice that’s helpful, even when you don’t necessarily want it. Krishnan’s Tamira is heavily characterized. Her moments of true fear standout as something I’ll remember from this movie.

In a year where Pixar’s Elemental also has a message about the children of immigrants, these two movies couldn’t be more different, but both have the right mix of enjoyable movie magic and strong themes that feel like important notes viewers should take away. IT LIVES INSIDE is the type of horror experience I enjoy most. It builds tension throughout. It makes me care about its characters. It creates an atmosphere I buy into completely. Oh yeah, and it’s monster is fantastic.

IT LIVES INSIDE is now playing in theaters.


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