Frightfest: It Lives Inside (2023)

Director: Bishal Dutta

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Starring: Megan Suri, Neeru Bajwa, Mohana Krishnan, Betty Gabriel, Vik Sahay, Gage Marsh

Writer/Director Bishal Dutta opens his directorial debut on the aftermath of destruction, as the camera moves through a house to show the resulting carnage. While gruesomely destroyed bodies litter the floor and bloody claw marks are shown on the wall, accompanying the sights are screams and inhuman groans. As the camera moves closer towards the source of those sounds, what lingers is the sense that something horrific yet fantastical has occurred.

Living in a suburb, Indian-American teen Samidha (Megan Suri) is struggling with her cultural identity. When her estranged friend Tamira (Mohana Krishnan) asks for help, a moment of anger results in the breaking of a jar containing an ancient demon. When the evil force kidnaps Tamira, it sets its sights on Samidha to feed on her loneliness.

Key to the lead's struggle is how she views her cultural identity, ashamed of it because of her desire to fit in. From not bringing her friends home to asking others to call her Sam, she has acclimatized to American life due to worries of being seen as an "other." These decisions led to her going separate ways from Tamira, as her decision to fit in distances the former best friends.

The character relationships are where the film is strongest, as these believable figures and their bonds are brought alive courtesy of effective writing and performances. This includes kind love-interest Russ (Gage Marsh), and supportive teacher Joyce (Betty Gabriel). The most impactful relationship is between Samidha and her more traditional mother (Neeru Bajwa), as their clashing gets in the way of moments where they can actually talk and understand each other.

While it may resort to jump scares and dream sequences a bit too often, there is unsettling imagery on display along with a spine-chilling monster. It is worth mentioning how this is the rare reveal which does not diminish the monsters power, with a look conveying how suffering is built into its very being. Dutta's impressive debut utilizes slick direction to bring alive this effective allegory for identity crises, established within a compelling lore drawn from Indian myth for a superbly tense work.

It Lives Inside made its European Premiere at Frightfest 2023. It will be released in US cinemas from 22nd September and in UK cinemas from 20th October.