2023 has been a surprisingly solid year for horror on all levels. From more low-key hits like Cobweb to mainstream titans such as Evil Dead Rise, it’s been a year of fear thus far. It Lives Inside is yet another tick in the box; a red-bathed achievement in environmental scares and patient tension. The focus on culture and Hindu mythology is incredibly well handled, too, and works towards this being a one-of-a-kind experience.
The story is built around a demon in Hindu mythology; details reveal themselves via violence as the film bounces from clever set-piece to clever set-piece. The story’s structure is familiar, but again, the mythological twist ensures a completely new narrative as this ancient evil seeks the souls of our characters. The story takes full advantage of the unique entity, the “Pishach”, at hand.
Megan Suri is a superb lead. Her performance is evocative of legendary final girls past; regardless of whether or not this film gets a follow up, she’s made for roles like these, and is an effortless highlight. She thrives in the heavy moments and settles nicely in between them, sporting a rare versatility in the genre. She only occasionally falters when the writing does.
Some of the dialogue on hand here is rough, not just in regards to Suri. When the plot needs to move or a piece of information has to be delivered, you can feel it clamoring through a sentence as it builds up to the inevitable exposition dump (or, in the case of the first act, a particularly egregious forced conflict).
All things considered, though, the screenplay is tight. Beat-for-beat, scream-for-scream, every need is met and, truly, every scare hits. There’s nothing genre-defining here, but also nothing eye-rolling; the jumps are clever when they come, and the rest of the fear is derived from real, earned pressure. Bishal Dutta directs surely and steadfastly; he outright ignores genre conventions in favor of carving an identity specific to It Lives Inside. The film looks and breathes for itself exclusively, and what an admirable concept that is for a film of this caliber. New, with no earned expectations, nobody to impress and nothing to prove. It’s simply very, very good.
The film’s use of light, in addition to the red room reserved for the climax, will have you fearing the bulbs and fluorescents in your own home. Dutta draws almost every scare from the physical environments surrounding the scenes, and lights seem to be his favorite focal. The best example among these are motion-activated ceiling bulbs in a school hallway (the entire sequence is exceptional, really). It’s a wholly original, smile-inducing, mind-consuming set-piece that should go down as one of the year’s best.
It Lives Inside’s greatest accomplishment is that it cannot be ignored in a year as strong as this one, warranting a spot much closer to some great, new horror hits than you’d think, and much further ahead of what many expected it to be. It was tracking to place even higher going into the final act, though unfortunately the film finds itself a little too deep in concept, and does some damage in trying to dig out.
The haphazard mix of CGI and practical effects in the last 30 minutes, even if it was borne out of a respectable attempt to harken back to the golden age of horror, heavily severs the immersion that it works so hard to realize. On top of that, the film twists itself on the page and springboards off a confusing climax into an underwhelming ending. This last-minute hampering definitely doesn’t kill the film, but it does leave an unfortunate stain on a final stretch that had the potential to elevate it to the next level.
Issues like that are must-mention, but shouldn’t deter you from watching It Lives Inside. It’s a compelling display of modern ingenuity in horror whilst also emitting a passionate love for the best that came before. Dutta and Suri merit special attention in their respective professions, and It Lives Inside deserves every last one of your bated breaths.
It Lives Inside had its UK Premiere at FrightFest 2023. The film will debut in theaters on September 22, 2023 courtesy of Neon in the US and Vertigo Releasing in the UK.
Director: Bishal Dutta
Writers: Bishal Dutta & Ashish Mehta (Story)
It Lives Inside is a compelling display of modern ingenuity in horror whilst also emitting a passionate love for the best that came before. Dutta and Suri merit special attention in their respective professions, and It Lives Inside deserves every last one of your bated breaths.
Movie-loving writer and aspiring filmmaker.