Lives a cautionary tale of assimilation
A bracing cautionary tale about the dangers of assimilation, Bishal Dutta's It Lives Inside draws on Indian culture to create one of the more thoughtful and effective horror films of the year. Deft and subtle, this low-budget affair embraces its threadbare aesthetic, stumbling only at the end when Dutta eschews his stealthy approach for a monster reveal that doesn't quite work.
Much to her mother's dismay, Samidha (Megan Suri) has abandoned the traditions and beliefs of her family's Hindi culture. Much more focused on fitting in with her cliquish American friends, she insists she be referred to as "Sam," even though some of the girls she hopes to get close to are intrigued by her language and heritage. Her need to fit in is so great that she's taken to ignoring Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), her longtime best friend. Appearing disheveled, on edge and anti-social, the young lady is doing nothing to help her social standing by carrying around a Mason jar filled with dark, murky water.
The screenplay by Ashish Mehta and Dutta does not disappoint. Their story is lean and moves quickly from one odd event to the next, each effectively pulling further into the film's mystery. We come to learn that a pishach, a demon that feeds on negativity and human flesh, has been trapped in the eerie container Tamira hauls about and he may have something to do with the mysterious death of one of the girls' classmates from the year before.
Dutta masterfully suggests the presence of the demon throughout with a less-is-more approach. Eerie sound effects, ominous shadows, a blurry reflection, a veiled shape or a brief glimpse of a ragged claw are all he needs to convince us of the monster's presence and danger. That the filmmaker and Krishnan can make a simple glass jar filled with murky water seem threatening is an impressive, clever feat.
While the theme is obvious and the teen rebellion elements of the story come off as a bit worn, the nihilistic mood Dutta and company creates will please aficionados of the genre, as will the film's conclusion. There's a bitter irony in store for Samidha. To be sure, the pressure of straddling two social systems and finding the proper balance is difficult and the cost of turning her back on her heritage is high. The lifelong commitment she's forced to bear would tax even the most devout follower. But the fact that she must admit that her mother was right all along, is just rubbing salt in the wound. In theaters.
Incessant tedium makes for an awful No One
Waiting at the DMV...sitting in a meeting that covers material you already know delivered by someone with a monotone voice and the charisma of vanilla ice cream...watching Brain Duffield's No One Will Save You. All of these are examples of tedious activities that might have you contemplating rash actions to escape them. And while the first on the list will produce the tangible result of a renewed driver's license and the second might lead you to meeting the love your life, bonding over your common sense of boredom, there is no discernible benefit from participating in the third. None.
This sci-fi character study does nothing but spin its wheels, as it contains a one-note concept that would have been perfect for a half-hour anthology horror series. But as a feature film, it's a bloated, repetitious exercise that quickly taxes the patience and breaks the spirit of anyone unfortunate enough to stumble upon it. The one thing the film has going for it is Kaitlyn Dever, one of the finest young actors working today.
Brynn (Dever) is living a rather idyllic, if isolated, existence. She has a beautiful Victorian house in the country, its hardwood floors gleaming, ornated throughout with antiques and other decorations that help create the perfect Norman Rockwell home. She's quite happy living alone, doing crafts, dancing about, baking bread and journaling to her friend Maude. However, all is not well as we gradually – and I mean, gradually – come to learn Brynn was responsible for her friend's death some 10 years earlier, an incident well known by all who live in Mill River. It's a burden.
And then the aliens come...
Yep, space invaders of the most generic sort come calling and upset Brynn's quiet existence. She fights them in her bedroom, she fights them in the kitchen, she fights them in the foyer, she fights them on a bus when she tries to escape, she fights them in the yard, she fights them in the upstairs hallway, she fights them...you get the idea. The sheer number of times the character engages in direct combat with these creatures is stultifying. The repetition of this serves no purpose, unnecessarily bogging down the story while creating a numbing sense of boredom. That these aliens are horribly rendered doesn't help.
Then, there's the twist ending, an out-of-left-field turn of events I don't think Duffield earns. There are clues planted along the way that not everything is as it seems, yet I'm not sure they justify the conclusion. The bottom line is, I don't care enough to go back and figure it out. Duffield's indulgent approach and No One's lack of narrative depth creates such a sense of indifference in the viewer that all you care about is it ending as quickly as possible. Streaming on Hulu.