Rating: 2 out of 5.

Every year, dozens of new horror hopefuls flood the market hoping to hook the next genre classic. It Lives Inside, the debut feature from director/co-writer Bishal Dutta, aims to put a new spin on religion-based terror by honing in on Hindi mythology in a major way. Unfortunately, absolutely nothing here can distinguish the film from brethren like 2012’s The Possession, or 2019’s The Vigil. It seems that the supernatural religious horror movie may have finally gone out of style.

Teenager Samidha (Megan Suri) has trouble juggling her culturally-obsessive home life with her efforts to fit in at school. Classmates invite Sam to parties, but how can she possibly miss out on celebrating Durga Puja? Her family would kill her. Former best friend Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) approaches Sam one day sporting a creepy-looking mason jar. Claiming what’s inside the jar is ravenously hungry for the taste of raw meat, Tamira begs Sam to help her before it can claim her. When whatever is haunting Tamira remains unseen, It Lives Inside toys with a creepy atmosphere. What can possibly be more terrifying to the mind than the unknown?

Once the unseen entity shifts to Sam, the film is plagued by every horror cliche in the book. Recurring nightmares, twisty bone-cracking torment, and mounting paranoias rear their ugly head. Perhaps Sam’s family history could be the key to outsmarting this alleged devourer of souls. Can she turn to her friendly teacher, Joyce (Betty Gabriel), or is Sam’s love interest, Russ (Gage Marsh), more likely to believe something sinister prowls the shadows? The film’s attempted themes of being smothered by heritage feel a little shaky. The message within does not feel fully-formed whatsoever.

Being a rather low-budget affair, one can almost forgive the terrible CGI-effects that eventually rear their head, or the distractingly dark lighting that often requires squinting to make out the action. Dutta’s direction shows glimmers of greatness in his approach, particularly in the first half. Megan Suri tries hard to sell Sam’s paranoia despite the majority of the characterwork being paper-thin. I am absolutely all for more movies, especially horror, to explore and toy with culture. It Lives Inside ends up far too redundant and generic to leave a mark.

It Lives Inside screened at 2023’s Fantasia International Film Festival, and comes to theaters September 22nd, courtesy of NEON.

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