Dutta and credited story originator Ashish Mehta introduce American audiences to an Indian demon called a “Pishach,” defined as a soul eater. While the malevolent entity’s appearance is held for the third act reveal, there’s still danger from the moment Sam shuns Tamira’s babbling about Indian folktales and smashes her jar etched with protective language. “It Lives Inside” first employs an invisible figure responsible for a gnarly swing set scene where the Pishach viciously attacks, becomes more visible as a Freddy Krueger type who invades Sam’s nightmare with frightful “The Ring” similarities, then the grand monster reveal shows the Pishach as designed from jagged-toothed creature molds like in “Feast.” We’ve seen these techniques refitted by countless horror filmmakers, making Dutta only the latest — but his execution displays steady vision and command. Recreation is not a crime as long as execution is on point, which Dutta assures as scares are as confident as the writer and director behind the camera.
Composure is a key attraction to “It Lives Inside,” whether it’s Matthew Lynn’s distorting cinematography that swirls to represent lives turning upside down or thick shadowy lighting that nails alarming atmospheres. Dutta recognizes how appealing horror movies look, sound, and terrify, which “It Lives Inside” replicates in stride. Sam and Poorna’s disenchantment as a rebellious teen fights for independence is as well-polished an arc as Sam and Russ’ teenage love story or Mr. Pishach’s array of boogeyman tricks from eyes peering through darkness to bite marks piercing flesh.
But there’s still a ceiling on Sam’s dangerous dealings with Pishach as the experience feels overlong and a tad anticlimactic. Dutta telegraphs much of “It Lives Inside” because it’s less about the destination and more a commentary on the journey, which still lacks a bit of scripted suspense. An hour and forty-minute production begs to be a tight ninety instead, dragging on as the invisible version of the Pishach dominates screen time before the physical beast enters the frame. The film is at its best in scarier moments, like when Sam’s concerned teacher Joyce (Betty Gabriel) dashes away from Pishach “Lights Out”-style, which becomes apparent as buildup can linger between adrenaline-thumping altercations.
A good horror movie like “It Lives Inside” hits the spot, even if it’s not super filling. Bishal Dutta smashes borders with a demonic coming-of-age story that’s as introspective as violently aggressive. Any comparisons to “The Ring” or “Lights Out” aren’t meant to be a shrug about something being done better elsewhere — art of any medium influences creators in the future. Dutta’s never shy about leaning on what’s been scary for decades, which he gets away with because of the craftsmanship on display. Lesser filmmakers wouldn’t be granted such graces.
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10