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Review: Horror Film Done Right

By Monita Soni Email By Monita Soni
October 2023
Review: Horror Film Done Right

Filmmaker Bishal Dutta delivers a well-made edgy, suspenseful film that also raises intriguing questions about how to handle horrific supernatural phenomena: Seek out the authorities? Medical help? Witch doctor?

"It Lives Inside," directed by the award-winning filmmaker Bishal Dutta, ventures into the horror genre with a compelling narrative rooted in ethnic folklore. Dutta, known for his prowess in short films and his numerous accolades, brings a fresh perspective in his debut feature film to the classic horror story. He aims for a universal theatrical experience while exploring themes of identity, friendship, and cultural elements.

The film revolves around Sam (played by Megan Suri, you may remember her as Aneesa from Never Have I Ever) an Indian American teenager navigating the complexities of adolescence and her Indian ethnicity. Her emotive face is a mirror reflecting her inner duels with skin brown skin color, the customs and traditions her mother (Neeru Bajwa) tries to ingrain in her. Sam’s friendship with Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) is going south because of some strange developments. Tamira has become very isolated and seems to be grappling with an identity crisis. Sam tries to distance herself from Tam but when she comes face to face with her “ailing” best friend; breaks her Mason jar and unexpected otherworldly horrors unfold. Dutta adeptly portrays the challenges of fitting in as a teenager of color, highlighting the adolescent struggles Sam faces as she grapples with her own sense of self before her personality is fully synthesized.

The plot takes a chilling turn when Tamira mysteriously disappears. Sam is clearly worried about her but tries to push her out of her mind. But when she begins to experience eerie phenomena and an ominous presence, she is forced to confide with her father (Vik Sahay) and confides in her friend Russ (Gage Marsh). The film skillfully delves into unleashing a psychological terror that grips Sam as she confronts the malevolent entity residing within her.

The storyline raises intriguing questions about how to handle such horrific supernatural phenomena. Should they involve the authorities, seek medical help, or turn to traditional remedies like a witch doctor? This uncertainty adds to the suspense and keeps the audience engaged.

Megan Suri's portrayal of Sam is remarkable, with her expressive eyes conveying a range of emotions, from alarm and anguish to sheer terror. Her performance captivates the audience and anchors the film's narrative. Mohana Krishnan transforms from a cheerful young girl to a possessed victim (I am Frankie 2017 TV series) Another recognizable face is Joyce (Betty Gabriel from the unforgettable horror film-Get Out).

The cinematography and blood-curdling physicality, speed, bestial growls and dragging and popping sound effects enhance the overall atmosphere of dread, creating an immersive viewing experience. Dutta's mastery in crafting suspenseful scenes is evident throughout the film.

Although the reference to henna on Sam's hands, is symbolic of an upcoming Durga festival, I worry that viewers may inadvertently associate this beautiful cultural art form with the horror elements of the movie.
As the film reaches its conclusion, it leaves lingering unease, suggesting that the dark shadow of the supernatural still looms. It took me back to my childhood when mean cousins took extra pleasure in telling me “Ghost stories” and I hated to go down dark corridors, kept the night light on and checked under my bed for monsters. Even now, I tell my children to chant Hanuman Chalisa (as my mother taught me) to keep all “bhoot, pisach” away!

In comparison to other films in the horror genre, "It Lives Inside" distinguishes itself by infusing ethnic folklore, myth and cultural practices into the narrative. It explores the intersection of identity and fear, making it a thought-provoking addition to the genre. While it may not offer a neatly wrapped resolution, this film keeps the audience engaged and leaves them pondering the mysteries it presents. The open-ended conclusion serves as a haunting reminder that not all evil is vanquished, a common trope in classic horror tales.

Bishal Dutta's directorial skill shines in "It Lives Inside”. Making it is a compelling horror film that ventures beyond the conventional, offering a unique blend of cultural elements, suspense, and psychological terror. With its talented cast, atmospheric cinematography, and an intriguing plot, it proves to be a valuable addition to the horror genre, hinting at the untapped potential of urban legends and myths from various cultures. "It Lives Inside" has received rave reviews at the 2023 South by Southwest film festival and is set for release by Neon in theaters nationwide on September 22.

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays; and contributed to combined literary works. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM and the Princess Theater.

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