Bishal Dutta’s debut feature, It Lives Inside, is an attempt to incorporate Hindu mythology into an American horror flick. Dutta brings together the complex emotions that an immigrant child experiences as part of the American diaspora, along with childhood memories of listening to stories of ghouls and monsters rooted in Hindu mythology. The result is neither a complete disappointment nor thoroughly satisfying.
Samidha wanted her peers to treat her as equal and not another Brown girl in school. She preferred to be called Sam over Samidha and rarely spoke Hindi. She wanted to become an all-American girl, and it was important for her to detach herself from her roots to become more approachable to her classmates. Her overbearing mother, Poorna, was not happy with her choices and was vocal about her disappointment. Sam preferred sharing her thoughts with her father, Inesh. He could somewhat comprehend the struggles his daughter went through. While Sam managed to fit in with her peers, Tamira’s life changed for the worse. She was considered creepy and was ostracized by her classmates. Tamira had broad strokes of dark circles around her eyes; her hair was messy, and her face looked pale. She always carried a glass jar with her and chanted Hindu mantras. Sam seemed concerned about her, yet she did not wish to be associated with the creepy Indian kid in school.
What happened to Tamira?
Sam and Tamira used to be best friends when they were young, but they grew apart over the years. Sam wanted to fit in, but Tamira did not care much about it. Sam often felt embarrassed when her best friend, Kittie, treated her differently simply because she was of Indian origin. She could sense that Tamira was living a nightmare, but she was afraid of helping her. One day, when Tamira approached her, she finally decided to find out what was going on. Tamira was frightened to her bones. Sam promised to trust her, no matter how strange the truth seemed. Tamira explained that the jar she carried consisted of a monster. It was impossible to see with bare eyes, but it needed to be fed raw meat regularly. The jar called out to her, and that was how she found it, and she assumed that by feeding it, she would manage to keep the monster in control. But the monster demanded more, and it was becoming impossible for Tamira to deal with it all by herself. She hoped for Sam to help her, but instead, Sam dropped the glass jar on the floor. Sam did not believe in the erratic story Tamira narrated, and she wanted to prove to her classmates that she could call out Tamira for her strange behavior. Tamira stared at Sam in disbelief. The monster was out of the jar. Sam tried to reason with Tamira, but she was extremely scared, and she started chanting Hindu mantras to protect herself. By the time Sam went to get help, Tamira had already been dragged out of the school by the invisible monster.
Who was Karan Choudhary?
Tamira dropped a diary before she disappeared from school. Sam took the diary along with her, and she eventually found out that it belonged to a kid named Karan Choudhary, who belonged to their community. Sam’s father described the Choudhary family as a little odd. He believed that the family was running away from something evil when they left India. The last time Inesh saw Karan, he remembered that the boy was talking to an invisible entity. Both Karan and Tamira had lived through similar experiences, and Sam realized that there was more to the mystery than what she had assumed. Sam came across eerie illustrations made by Karan as she flipped through the diary. He talked about the overwhelming feeling of shame and loneliness. He also mentioned capturing the monster in a vessel, suggesting that before dying, he was the one who managed to trap it in the jar. After going through Karan’s diary, Sam realized that it was important for her to take a look at his house. She went there with her crush, Russ. They came across a mural on the wall with ghosts either escaping or entering the mouth of a young boy. We learn in It Lives Inside, that Karan’s family members were found mutilated when the police entered the house, and Karan’s body was charred, but his wounds were not similar to the usual burn wounds. It was evident that the monster was the reason behind the death of the Choudhary family.
What happened to Joyce?
Sam started to see the red eyes of the monster in the darkness. She could hear it and feel it, but most of the time, it was not visible. Sam started to obsess over finding out the truth, and the constant lurking presence of the monster affected her mentally. One morning, when she revisited Karan’s place with Russ, she heard a voice calling for her. While she followed the voice, the monster attacked Russ and brutally took his life. Sam was the common link between Tamira and Russ’ cases, but she denied her involvement in both. Sam’s family started to feel insecure once their white neighbors looked at them with doubt. Sam could neither connect with her family nor settle back into her usual life at school. She was stuck in between, chasing an invisible monster, and living through vivid nightmares all by herself.
After the sleepless nights, Sam had started to look like Tamira. She walked in fear and always seemed distracted. She confided the truth behind the sudden change in her behavior to her trusted class teacher, Joyce. Unlike the reaction Sam had expected, Joyce did not ridicule her. Instead, she promised to find out more about the mural she found on the wall of Karan’s house. It was Joyce who informed Sam that the monster that tormented her was the flesh-eating demon found in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, Pishach. The only way to trap it was through a vessel, which could be a container or even a body. While Joyce supported Sam, she wondered if the recent incidents had affected her psychologically. But Joyce soon realized that what Sam described was real. She, too, could feel the presence of the demon, and after a point, it started attacking her. The demon wanted to hurt Joyce because she was trying to protect Sam. Just when the Pishach was about to kill Joyce, Sam and her mother started chanting Hindu mantras that helped keep the demon in control.
How did Sam trap the dark spirit?
After finding out about Pishach, Sam confessed the entire truth to her distressed mother. When Poorna was a little girl, she heard such stories from her nannies. Never in her wildest dreams would she have assumed demons to be real, but here was her daughter trying to convince her that a Pishach was after her. Poorna remembered that Pishach fed on negative feelings and attacked the sanity of its target. The ones who suffered from loneliness were further isolated from friends and family, and it harmed anyone who dared to help the demon’s victim. The Pishach killed its victim after terrorizing them for seven days, and Sam realized that Tamira could still be alive. Poorna warned Sam that a Pishach was impossible to destroy alone, and if one attempted to do so, they might burn in the process. Poorna prepared an elaborate meal to summon the demon, although all the dishes were vegetarian. After repeatedly chanting Hindu mantras, the Pishach stopped attacking Joyce and arrived at Sam’s doorstep.
With a knife in hand, Poorna stood in front of her daughter as her shield and dealt with the demon. The demon attacked Sam’s father the moment it entered the house and proceeded to hurt the mother, but Poorna stood her ground bravely and directed the demon to the offering kept on the table. The Pishach was not impressed with the spread, and it left the house as a result of the constant chanting. Poorna had burned herself a little while protecting her daughter from the demon. Sam called the emergency helpline to save her parents. And she left the house to face the demon all by herself. She cycled to Karan Choudhary’s house and searched for Tamira. The mantra kept the demon away, but at the same time, it started to burn Sam. She somehow managed to escape to the basement, where Tamira was kept. Sam knew it was impossible to destroy the demon all by herself, and she needed Tamira’s help. After being held hostage for a week without any food or water, Tamira was physically weak. She could barely speak, and she did not have the strength to fight. But after watching Sam burn herself while trying to trap the demon in the vessel, Tamira started chanting as well. When the Pishach destroyed the glass jar where Sam planned on trapping it, she decided to use her body as the vessel. Since the Pishach fed on loneliness, when the childhood friends chanted the mantra together, it started to disintegrate and was ultimately trapped in Sam’s body.
After a year, the victims of Pishach gathered to have lunch together. Sam was fed raw meat to satisfy the demon. She had gotten used to it by now, and she did not mind having it as long as she was able to protect her loved ones from the demon. At the end of It Lives Inside, we find out that Tamira and Sam continue to be friends. Tamira is grateful to Sam and admires her for the risk she willingly took. Tamira would also worry for her best friend, but Sam promised her that everything was under control. When Tamira left, Sam’s facial expression changed.
It Lives Inside’s ending suggests that the demon is hungry once again, and it is becoming difficult for Sam to keep it trapped in her body. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She knew she was failing, and she was afraid of the havoc that the demon would unleash if it ever got out. Sam’s life will never be the same, and the haunting of the Pishach seems to be an endless affair.
It Lives Inside talks about the negative emotions that immigrants often experience. Kunal and Tamira struggled to fit into the American lifestyle, and that resulted in loneliness, self-hatred, and bitterness. They started to lose their sanity because the feeling of not belonging anywhere got to them. They believed they were outsiders in the country they lived in and in the country they called home. As the individual starts to feel overwhelmed, it often leads to isolation. The only way to fight off such bitter feelings is by reconnecting with loved ones, just like Sam did. She sought help from those who cared for her, and it ultimately helped her bring the demon under control. The demon can be interpreted as the physical manifestation of the horror that first-generation immigrants suffer from, and it is the subtext that makes It Lives Inside watchable.