Why did you even come here, Samidha scoffs at her mother, if you were just going to be another Desi housewife? It’s about as piercing a jab as an American child could throw at their immigrant parent, and emblematic of the kind of disdain central to “It Lives Inside,” a social-horror movie from the writer-director Bishal Dutta, in his feature debut.
As Samidha (Megan Suri), an Indian American teenager, has gotten older, she’s increasingly distanced herself from anything that might reveal her cultural identity. She goes by Sam to her peers, avoids speaking Hindi and had a mysterious break from Tamira (Mohana Krishnan), an Indian American classmate who used to be her best friend. When she lashes out at Tamira, she unwittingly unleashes a monster ripped from Hindu folklore.
It’s a compelling premise. And as a horror movie with frights and an effective score, the film largely works. But the weightier themes around internalized racism and the immigrant experience fail to push beyond the basics, and the allegory doesn’t always succeed — a connection between the back story of the film’s monster and the idea of cultural self-acceptance is pretty flimsy.
Still, it’s a promising debut from Dutta, who offers a fresh premise that proves a natural fit for the genre. The themes will feel familiar to the American children of any diaspora. High school is scary to begin with. But when there’s only one other classmate of your race, what’s worse than being mistaken for each other?
It Lives Inside
Rated PG-13 for terror, violent content, bloody images, brief strong language and teen drug use. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. In theaters.