MOVIE REVIEW: It Lives Inside
While CGI may have gifted us with some fairly impressively grotesque monsters and other assorted, cinematic nasties that go bump in the night, the psychologically-inclined likes of It Lives Inside more than abundantly illustrate that nothing can ever quite rival the worst, anxiety-fuelled imaginings that prey upon darkest facets of the tortured human psyche. The very real and palpable daily trials and tribulations that, for horror fans of a certain age and level of intellect, render the ghost-faced baddies and shadowy haunted houses of their formative viewing experiences little more than the stuff of mere child’s play by comparison (pun entirely intended). And certainly, given that the production team behind this Hindu-themed horror are already renowned for playing their part in orchestrating the insightful and famously prejudice-confronting Get Out, it’s no surprise that this low-budget yet richly atmospheric piece also cuts straight to the core of a plethora of real-world issues spanning everything from coming-of-age strife to national identity and second-generation immigrant struggles.
Taking admirable steps in flipping and reversing the dominant white, Middle America-centric narrative that’s dominated this genre for entirely too long, this is a work forged from a decided and pronounced place of otherness — specifically, female, immigrant and adolescent. More subversive still is the fact that our Indian American protagonist Samidha (Megan Suri) is outwardly popular, pretty and socially well-adjusted within a high school climate that also seems to smartly deviate from the typically bruising and brutally Darwinian archetype, making the whole viewing experience altogether more subtly insidious and authentic for a 21st century audience. Indeed, there may here be no great, gushing buckets of pigs’ blood, no jeering hordes crowding school corridors or menacing notes in black magic marker protruding ominously from the lockers of soon-to-be victims. Instead, only the subtle yet nonetheless unmistakably tangible sense that all is not well. Not least in the subtle micro-aggressions of Samidha’s classmates who pester her to “speak in Hindu” for the purposes of creating entertaining online content or such ignorant, throwaway remarks as, “Is it maybe a cultural thing?”. Indeed, to quote the comedic yet sharply insightful teen classic Mean Girls, “In girl world, all the fighting has to be sneaky.”
And so goes the lamentable, well-trodden narrative of Samidha and her estranged childhood friend Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) — one adolescent teen all too eager to grow up, fit in and adjust, shrugging off the burdensome shackles of babyish infancy and stuffy traditional values. The other seemingly suspended in a permanent state of arrested development, paralysed with Carrie-esque inarticulacy and the innate, ever-persistent sense of simply failing to belong on a multitude of different levels. Or, more specifically, in the case of poor Tamira, bearing the harrowing burden of attempting to prevent a terrifying demonic entity from breaking free of its makeshift prison in a flimsy, screwtop glass jar. And following an angry altercation with Samidha that leads to the destruction of the aforementioned, disconcertingly breakable vessel, said demon is unwittingly unleashed into the world to predictably catastrophic consequences.
As we progress from our tormented protagonist’s varying states of futile denial, astonishment and eventual despair, the assorted metaphors of depression, anxiety and identity crisis hold up reasonably well throughout, with a string of prerequisite jump scares and ominous premonitions following in thick and fast succession. While some of the “scares” and nightmare sequences showcased here may, admittedly, be about as frightening as a Goosebumps paperback novel, It Lives Inside serves up a nonetheless entertaining smattering of suspenseful moments, together with some stunningly beautiful and unsettling art direction.
Yet, while Samidha’s struggle makes for suspenseful and, in places, thought-provoking viewing, this decidedly teenage chiller never oversteps its rather tame, PG-13 level theatrical boundaries into the realms of pure, nerve-shredding psychological terror, as previously witnessed in the infinitely more horrific and grown-up likes of The Babadook or Nordic folk horror Midsommar. For the simple fact that we never delve overly deep into the precise circumstances and particulars culminating in the eventual breakdown of her once tight-knit friendship with Tamira. Or indeed the evidently complex and misery-inducing inner turmoil that serves to poison each and every relationship seen throughout to be rapidly crumbling around her as Samidha grapples helplessly to establish her own sense of identity in a world she finds herself both literally and metaphorically at war with.
Perhaps, as outside observers not privy to the myriad complexities of adolescent relationships and, for many viewers too, the equally isolating and disorientating immigrant experience, this is something first-time director Bishal Dutta never intended to make explicitly clear and apparent. That said, there remains the nonetheless nagging sense that It Lives Inside had the potential to venture into altogether darker and more disquieting psychological territories. But, for the purposes of crafting an entertaining, cinematic distraction from the many and varied slasher bores and lacklustre remakes we’re likely to see this Halloween season, it’s certainly a conceptually intelligent and, in places, hauntingly atmospheric piece of horror storytelling.
It Lives Inside is out now at a cinema near you