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It Lives Inside, a new horror film from first-time director Bishal Dutta, opens in theaters on September 22nd. The film follows Sam, an Indian-American high school student who struggles against her Indian heritage and wants only to be like everyone else. After a falling out with her former best friend, she unwittingly releases a demonic spirit that feeds on her loneliness. Sam has to face questions about her identity and relationships if she has any hopes of defeating the demon.

Bishal spoke with Cherry the Geek TV at Comic-Con International in San Diego last week about the film, what types of movies scared him growing up, and the real-life stories and people that helped influence him and the story.

CHERRY THE GEEK TV: This is your first film–a horror film. Why did you choose this genre and what types of films influenced you growing up?

DUTTA: I love horror films. I have since I was a kid. I have this relationship with them. I was born in India. When I moved here as a kid, it was helpful to me to watch these very iconic horror films like Poltergeist or A Nightmare on Elm Street. They were really formative to me in helping me understand what it was like to be American. I became obsessed with them. Even movies that arguably are not horror films affected me on the same level of horror films–films like The Terminator or Aliens terrified me. I’ve always had a deep love for the genre. I’ve done short films in a bunch of genres, but when it came time to make my first feature, I wanted to make something very personal, but something that would also be very affective to an audience. When I was coming up with the story, I was thinking that there are certain emotions that you feel, especially when you’re a teenager, and the only realistic way to convey them is in a horror film. I was really inspired by films like The Conjuring and Insidious and Paranormal Activity–stuff that I had seen as a teenager that was so fun to watch in the theater–and also these layered films like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Christine, Ginger Snaps. I wanted to come up with the perfect balance between a family drama and a very brutal, visceral horror film.

CHERRY THE GEEK TV: I’ve read that are three things that influenced you in developing the story of this: One is Indian legend, one was a personal story that your grandfather told you when you were a kid, and one was your experience of moving from India to the United States and growing up in a new culture. Talk about those three things and how you blended them to create this story.

DUTTA: It all started with this ghost story that my grandfather told me when I was young. When he was a young man in India he went to a family friend’s house and the family friend had a daughter who would bring an empty jar around and talk to it. One day he said “Hey, there’s nothing in your jar,” and she opened the jar and threw something at him but nothing came out. He thought whatever, this is nothing. But when he went home, strange things started happening. He’d hear knocking at the door in the middle of the night. He’d hear horses galloping around. The big one was he left a pack of peanuts out, and he turned around and he heard chewing. He turns around and the peanuts are gone. These crazy things happened that drove him out of his house. This is a story I grew up hearing. I don’t know how true it is, but it certainly affected me. When I was starting this film, I started thinking about what could that have been? So looking at our mythology–there are a lot of interesting sub-mythologies: creatures and demons. This particular one stood out to me because I already knew I wanted it to be a high school film about a teenager dealing with their identity. So I found this creature that feeds on loneliness, and feeds on negativity, and feeds on insecurity. It was the perfect fit. It made sense with my grandfather’s story so I worked in the idea of the jar and the vessel, and then from my own personal experiences in high school and then also from stories about high school I’ve heard from cousins and family, it really came together as a confluence of those three things.

CHERRY THE GEEK TV: You mentioned creatures-demonic creatures. We won’t spoil it but there’s a point in the film where it gets revealed what we’re dealing with, and I always have to give a shout out when there’s practical effects vs. CGI. Talk about that choice.

DUTTA: I think for me, there’s something that you can’t pull away from in horror with practical effects. When I think of the films that have stayed with me, I think of Hellraiser or The Fly. The practical effects and the texture of them–the feeling that you could reach into the screen and feel Brundlefly. That’s the reality I wanted for this movie. I knew that could not be accomplished with CGI. I think CGI can do incredible things–look at the creatures in A Quiet Place films–but for this film it felt very important to have this physical embodiment of the creature. I got to work with this brilliant creature designer Todd Masters who did the Borg Queen on Star Trek–he’s done so many great creatures. We just keep thinking about and looking at the cultural and religious art we have of this creature and let’s really try to look at –that was there interpretation of it–how do we make this feel real? How do we make this feel like a physical creature is in a space with us that follows the laws of physics. What we came up with is the distillation of anger and hatred and all the negative things within a person put into one creature. That was the idea.

CHERRY THE GEEK TV: Talk about your amazing cast led by Megan Suri. I’m curious about when you’re developing the script and you have this idea in your head about who these characters are and then you cast these actors and shoot the film–how do their performances compare to what you envisoned? What did they bring to the film?

DUTTA: I love actors and I love what they bring to the project and to the process of making the project. In this particular case, the cast came together quickly. Megan was actually the first person I met for the role. I couldn’t get her out of my mind for this character. I could tell based on her previous work you could tell that she was capable of doing the insecure, really likable teenage character, but then I could also see her as Ripley at the end of Alien. I could see the action hero within her. That was crucial. The other actors that I had–Betty Gabriel–she brought this incredible physicality to the role. I kept wanting to expand how much action we gave her because she’s truly another action star. The other actors-Neeru Bajwa, Vik Sahay, Gage Marsh–what I love about actors when they’re collaborating on the level of story and script is that all of sudden these are types anymore–these aren’t stereotypes–they’re not stock characters. Each of them brought such humanity to the characters. Now when I look at the film, I feel like these are real people from my life. What excites me about hopefully one day continuing the story is those characters and feeling like they’re real people and that I keep wanting to hear their stories.

CHERRY THE GEEK TV: The film comes out in September. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

DUTTA: From the moment I came up with the idea and through the whole process, all I really wanted to do was give the next generation the experience I had when I watching my favorite horror films when I was young. The first time I saw Insidious or Sinister. I was 16 the first time The Conjuring came out. The whole conversation was that this film had no sex or violence or bad language. It’s rated R because it’s so scary. We would dare each other to go see it. I remember being in the theater and yelling and laughing and having that kind of experience. I want to make those types of movies for an audience and in this case–I have the double duty of saying here’s that kind of movie in its most pure form, but hopefully you’re also looking at a family in this film that you go “That’s like my family,” and also that people like me can watch this film, someone who’s always felt different–can watch this film and go “Oh, that’s my family,” and then to be really scared within that–that’s the goal.

You can watch the full interview with Bishal Dutta by clicking on the link below:

It Lives Inside opens in theaters September 22.

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