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Of Prets and Pishaachs: Bishal Dutta’s Directorial Debut ‘It Lives Inside’ is a Fresh Perspective of Classic Horror Genre

Of Prets and Pishaachs: Bishal Dutta’s Directorial Debut ‘It Lives Inside’ is a Fresh Perspective of Classic Horror Genre

  • The cinematography, combined with blood-curdling physicality, bestial growls, and chilling sound effects, contributes to the overall atmosphere of dread, along with the filmmaker’s expertise in crafting suspenseful scenes.

“It Lives Inside,” directed by the talented filmmaker Bishal Dutta, explores the horror genre with a captivating narrative steeped in ethnic folklore. This is a courageous foray as a directorial debut feature film for Dutta, a UC Berkeley film and media alumnus. It has won him rave reviews and I am not surprised because the film explores a fresh perspective to the classic horror genre. I have watched Datta’s short film about a prevalent social topic like Alzheimer’s disease: “Life in Color,” where an aging father clashes with his daughter to pick up pieces of his fading memory about his long-lost lover. Datta has handled it with keen sensitivity. 

In “It Lives Inside,” Datta portrays an ordinary Indian immigrant family: A father, mother and daughter trying to fit into their new American identity while clinging to their cultural heritage. They are so ordinary, they could be our neighbors down the street, they could be our extended family from Kansas, or they could be us.

He follows the clever plot of drawing the viewer into a bland commonplace scenario of people “eating cereal,” packing their school lunch and then scaring the wits out of us! It serves as a universal reminder that the scariest monsters live among us and are always at our elbows when the time is right.

I particularly admire the backstory of “It Lives Inside” because Datta introduces ancient Indian ‘ghouls and harpies” aka “prets and pishaachs” to add to the “fright-fest” of American audiences. Datta’s goal is to provide a universal theatrical experience while delving into themes of identity, friendship, and cultural elements.

Megan Suri (known for her role as Aneesa in “Never Have I Ever”) delivers an unforgettable performance. She plays Sam, an ordinary but conflicted Indian American teenager navigating the complexities of adolescence and her Indian heritage. Her berry-brown complexion, her mother’s insistence for her to make “prasad” from scratch to offer to the goddess. ‘Why can’t you cater it like other aunties, mom?” Suri’s expressive eyes, her voice and body language offer the audience a peek into her inner struggles. Neeru Bajwa plays Sam’s mother and tries her best to figure out what is troubling her teenage daughter, just like any other mother. Nothing extraordinary or “Indian” there, but very natural.

Sam’s friendship with Tamira, portrayed by Mohana Krishnan, is central to the story. Mohana Krishnan masterfully transforms from a cheerful young girl to a possessed victim, drawing viewers into her character’s predicament. As their friendship takes a dark turn due to Tamira’s isolation and identity crisis, the audience can feel the tension building, as their friendship literally shatters into a mess. 

The plot takes a chilling turn when Tamira mysteriously disappears, leaving Sam deeply concerned but plagued by another dilemma. Suri’s portrayal allows us to sense Sam’s worry and fear as she grapples with eerie phenomena and an ominous presence. She eventually confides in her father, played by Vik Sahay, and her friend Russ, portrayed by Gage Marsh. More unexpected horror unfolds. Their performances add depth to the film’s exploration of psychological terror. Another addition to the cast is Betty Gabriel, as a sympathetic teacher known for her role in the unforgettable horror film “Get Out,” adding to the film’s credibility in the genre.

The cinematography, combined with blood-curdling physicality, bestial growls, and chilling sound effects, contributes to the overall atmosphere of dread. Bishal Dutta’s expertise in crafting suspenseful scenes is evident throughout the film, immersing the audience in the terrifying narrative.

As “It Lives Inside” reaches its conclusion, it leaves viewers with lingering unease, reminiscent of childhood fears and bedtime ghost stories. It refers to the advice many of us received from our parents to ward off supernatural entities. This open-ended conclusion serves as a haunting reminder that not all evil is easily vanquished, a common trope in classic horror tales.

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Dutta’s directorial prowess shines in “It Lives Inside.” The film is a compelling horror experience that goes beyond convention, offering a unique blend of cultural elements, suspense, and psychological terror. Its talented cast, atmospheric cinematography, and intriguing plot prove to be a valuable addition to the horror genre, hinting at the untapped potential of urban legends and myths from various cultures.

I am excited to think how many other wonderful stories will pour out now that this door has opened to mainstream cinema. There are so many “phantoms” waiting to scare us in theaters worldwide. I am so proud of Datta to usher in this scary genre.  

“It Lives Inside” has received rave reviews at the 2023 South by Southwest film festival and was released by Neon in theaters nationwide on Sept. 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. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

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