I expected a few things from indie horror film It Lives Inside, but a trudge through domestic mundanity and economic anxiety was not one of them. At times, this story of a new homeowner forced by an injury to become a stay-at-home dad recalls a gender-flipped Jeanne Dielman more than Insidious. There are jump-scares, blood, and spooky ghosts, but they feel like an afterthought to the film’s real concern: the nameless protagonist’s struggle to conform to the demands of childrearing and housework when he wants to be a successful breadwinner.
That’s not to say It Lives Inside is destined for the arthouse circuit. It won’t inspire any thinkpieces on the genre; it’s firmly and unapologetically a cheap horror film, with picture and sound quality that feel like they came from a high school’s AV department (aside from some solid effects and makeup work). I’ll admit that, having reviewed several horror movies for Film Threat that looked they were financed by digging between couch cushions, I started It Lives Inside with certain…biases. As the iMovie opening credits rolled, I prepared myself for 90 minutes of broad acting, too-red fake blood, and questionable creative choices. Instead, I was shocked by the focus and restraint of the actors and writer/director Jeff Hall.
“…finds a box in the attic containing an old, possibly demon-infested book and makes the mistake of not getting the hell out of there.”
The story starts like many others: a couple with a baby fresh out the oven has just bought a new house. While he’s unpacking, the unnamed husband (Rett Terrell) finds a box in the attic containing an old, possibly demon-infested book called “The Inuit Burden,” and he makes the mistake of not getting the hell out of there. Something like a typical progression of strange sightings, weird noises, and violent dreams ensues.
But if this scenario sounds boilerplate, the viewing experience is anything but. Early scenes weave in subtle details that initially seem irrelevant but sprout into a meditation on gender roles and domestic confinement. The husband and wife (also unnamed, played by Alissa Rose Ford) seem happy, but several issues keep them from domestic bliss. The husband cares more about tending to his garden than the household chores. The wife’s mother doesn’t like him. He’s not getting enough business during his yardwork day job. When he sustains a leg injury from a tree-trimming accident, forcing him to stay at home while the wife works for her mother to pay the mortgage, these issues spiral out of control. Juggling childcare, bills, housework, and a demonic presence is a lot to handle, and he’s not up to the task.
“…there’s something uniquely enthralling about watching its main character collapse.”
The movie wouldn’t work without Terrell and Fords’ grounded central performances. Neither will win awards for flashy acting, but they ably keep up with the testy married couple dialogue that devolves into something much darker. Terrell especially has a thin tightrope to walk—too unhinged and the movie would devolve into a pointless thriller, but too sympathetic and it would seem like a “meninist” tract about how women should stay in the kitchen. He hits the sweet spot where you’re never sure if his shitty behavior comes from the evil spirit infecting his soul or his male pride (What’s the difference? Heh heh heh that’s the point). Some of the best toddler actings I’ve ever seen from Liam Rose is icing on the cake.
I don’t know who to recommend It Lives Inside to, even though I want to recommend it to someone. Fans of horror who want a typical haunted-house story will find the slow pacing and lack of scares unbearable, and moviegoers who enjoy the arthouse pleasures of The Witch and It Comes At Night will struggle with its lo-lo-lo-lofi production values. But if you’re like me and you go in with low expectations, there’s something uniquely enthralling about watching its main character collapse.
It Lives Inside (2018) Directed by Jeff Hall. Starring Rett Terrell, Alissa Rose Ford.
7 out of 10 scary in-laws