“It Lives Inside,” opening in theaters nationwide Friday, is a horror movie with a difference.
While it boasts familiar figures like the plucky high schooler who will help her best friend battle a demon and a teacher who puts her life on the line, “It Lives Inside” is personal for its star Megan Suri and its 27-year-old writer director Bishal Dutta.
“The inspiration for this came from ghost stories that I heard growing up, Hindu ghost stories. I felt that there was something so universal about them that would really resonate across cultures with a foreign Western audience.”
“It Lives Inside” finds Suri’s Sam fighting to release her best friend from the deathly grip of the demon Pishach. Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”) is Joyce, the self-sacrificing teacher who joins the battle.
“For me,” Gabriel said in a Zoom interview, “the appeal of this was it’s based on Hindu mythology which is something new in an American film. I didn’t know about this particular demon and I thought this character was so cool, the kind of compassionate teacher we all want.
“She sees in Sam a person she had to be – an assimilated person, she had to be this brown face in a white place. She’s great at it but knows somewhere there’s a discomfort at her core.”
Suri agreed. “She’s two characters really in one body. There’s Samida and there’s ‘Sam.’ Samida is the one that’s more connected to her culture. She embraces it more.
“Sam is the persona she puts on to assimilate, just to get by and not be the outsider in a group in high school. So absolutely the only way to defeat this Pishach, this demon monster, and to save her friend was to tap into who she was neglecting throughout the beginning of this film.”
For the filmmaker, his mantra with this directorial feature debut was: “Be just as scary as it was for me when I was a kid.”
Being scared on camera means hours of high-intensity screams, scares and battles.
“As an actor, I definitely had my fair share of bruises. But let me tell you, it’s all worth it,” Suri, 24, said. “Part of the reason why Sam works so well for me was I understood her life. It was more about revisiting those feelings of embarrassment, of shame, of assimilation. Of really trying to figure out my place in the world and finding that place of who I am as an Indian-American woman.
“In this particular circumstance it was about just reconnecting to a part of myself that I feel like we meet towards the end of the movie.”
“It Lives Inside” opens Friday