Review by Adam Donato
Spooky season is upon us as audiences have already been put in a scary mood with the release of The Nun II. However, it's nice to see an original horror feature coming to the big screen in It Lives Inside, which follows a teenager named Samidha, shirking her values in pursuit of high school popularity. In a landscape dominated by franchise entires that are past their prime — like Expend4bles, Saw X, and The Exorcist: Believer — NEON is letting first-time filmmaker Bishal Dutta play the role of the underdog with his effective chiller of a debut.
While critics seem to be enjoying It Lives Inside, the audience scores for the film are middling at best from early screenings at festivals and as the Regal Mystery Movie earlier this month. Some early feedback on the film suggests that the movie is too basic and not ambitious enough. This review argues the simplicity of the story is one of the movie's strengths. At just under a hundred minutes, It Lives Inside does follow a similar structure to other horror movies, but where it excels is how cohesive and effective the individual elements are. Samidha rejects her childhood friend, pushes away her parents, and ignores her heritage. While her character is understandably going through a phase, all these issues fit together and emphasize her arc. As much as this movie tries to masquerade as a generic horror movie, it is fundamentally a poignant tale of a girl reconnecting with her morals.
Megan Suri stars as Samidha and gives a solid lead performance. Her character is so internally torn apart, allowing you to feel for her every step of the way. Dedicated fans to the horror genre will be happy to see Betty Gabriel, famous for her supporting role in Get Out. Her character is a teacher who is a mentor to young Samidha and has concern for Samidha’s former childhood friend, Tamira. Other notable members of the cast include Neeru Bajwa and Vik Sahay, who play the concerned and confused parents of Samidha. However, there's not much room to shine for the cast, as the real star of the show here is the direction.
The best part of the direction here is the atmosphere of the film. The scary scenes are effective, but there’s this underlying sense of paranoia and dread that persists throughout this film. Notable scares in the film include a monster’s eyes illuminating from a closet, a swing set massacre, and a high-tension climax. Dutta holds back on showing the monster in the film, and as such, the buildup to the climax is well earned. The ending works so well because the effort was put into having a main character audiences will care about and a proper escalation of scary scenes. It Lives Inside feels much closer to something like Talk To Me than The Nun II. Once again, more independent horror rises above the lazy franchise continuations.
Unless you are a sixty year old man wanting to see Expend4bles or a scaredy cat, It Lives Inside is certainly the movie of the weekend for you. Proper character development and solid direction from Dutta make for one of the better horror movies of the year thus far. Be sure to check this one in theaters, as it’s one of the few horror movies that actually puts the work in.
It Lives Inside hits theaters on September 22.