Movies are such a wide and diverse lens into the human spirit, from horrors unseen by mortal men of belief eternal to heroes of fortune to stop Armageddon.
It’s always interesting to look over that wide range of potential especially when a weekend comes along where two such very different and frankly unique titles come along and compete for the top of the box office, in this we have the directorial debut of filmmaker Bishal Dutta in It Lives Inside and Expend4bles, the latest outing in the action-comedy franchise.
Unlike my double feature reviews before, these were not seen in conjunction with one another, these were seen on two very different days, in fact, in full transparency, I had the pleasure to see It Lives Inside a whole two weeks early as part of Regal Cinemas’ Monday Mystery Movie program.
However, I think it’s interesting to see where these two succeed, where they fail, and how they are both similar and different in drawing crowds for the same release date. Without further ado, let’s get started.
It Lives Inside Review
Horror is an interesting genre and far from the oft-mocked simplicity of early 80s slashers or the gruesome torture porn of the 00s, there’s nuance and thematic depth among the dark and the unknown, and it really crushes me when I see an idea with such obvious potential reek of been there done that in the worst way.
It Lives Inside on paper has a strong premise following ideas of culturally masking to blend into a new environment, taking a story from Hindu text and giving it real presence, and at that doing it all in a sub-two-hour runtime.
The problem is it has so many tropes you’ve seen before in horror, just for starters “people don’t believe existence of monster when told” “invisible monster” “it’s marinating you in fear” “prayer does nothing against a demon”, and the thing is, I can name like five movies that did these tropes better, even if I wasn’t a major fan.
Beyond it’s own tired inclusions on the genre it intrudes on, the film barely explains much of it’s own cultural context that a lot of the narrative heavily relies on, mind you a couple of things are elaborated for the audience that don’t come from an Indian background, but that’s few and far between.
Even excluding all of that, the film is unbelievably amateur in the worst ways, there are so many “notice me I’m brilliant” moments sprinkled throughout that draw more attention than anything and if anything undervalue the intelligence of the audience, such as having the white credits turn to red (and this isn’t just the title, it’s ALL of the opening credits) which if you know anything about thematic symbolism from high school English, that’s analogous to corruption, which they don’t even do that right when it does happen.
It’s so blatant and in your face that there’s no room for interpretation. That’s the real sin of the movie, not the methodology, not the monster looking like something out of Power Rangers, but that the filmmaker doesn’t respect the intelligence of the audience, everything is so cookie-cutter cliche and what isn’t a cliche is explained to death and it removes any and all intrigue from it.
Looking back now, my main question is, why does the creature feel so wholly disconnected from the character’s thematic struggle?
I know it’s tied to her once and future friend, but if anything the only tie is the vague relation it has to Hinduism, the fact that the monster isn’t more about exploiting the horror of losing yourself to a new land or about say, gaslighting and trauma, the invisible killers we face, monster as a metaphor is a surprisingly common thing in good horror, look at A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge or Alien, sure on paper those are movies about monsters and dream demons, but those are movies rife with subtext, like in Freddy’s Revenge, it’s about homophobia, being closeted, and hating what you think you are and lashing out.
While Scott’s Alien, it’s a movie where the monster is literally shaped like a penis, his whole thing is about impregnating you against your will, and in spite of being a clear danger, predators are protected by corporate interests unless you take it into your own hands. The acting in It Lives Inside is fine, there are no awful performances, and the cinematography looks pretty nice, but this is one you can most definitely skip.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Guilty pleasures come in all shapes and sizes, for some it’s as simple as a new Michael Bay movie, for others it’s The Room or Foodfight with so bad it’s good titles and the ironic enjoyment, but for me, it’s ultimately cornball action movies. A genre that’s almost entirely redundant anymore because of more story-focused serious outings such as John Wick, or more witty character-focused outings like Kingsman, a relic of an era with one-liners, mushroom cloud explosions, and villains with one note to their name, movies like Demolition Man, True Lies, Point Break, and Face/Off just to name a few.
The Expendables as a series is the perfect sendup to that era as it stars most of those big names in some form throughout all 4 movies; Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, and when it’s these fun older guys getting into barfights and throwing hands and cracking one-liners and just playing off each other, that stuff really works, the problem time and time again is the story which isn’t a campy send up, but it plays it far too straight…with the exception of Expendables 2 which is just so much fun comparatively and really makes me disappointed that the two follow-ups weren’t in that same vein of insane tongue in cheek fun.
Enough about the past, we’re talking about the most recent outing here, and for what it’s worth, I do enjoy seeing these guys here, surprisingly Statham takes over the leading man position for this one, and he does a good job with the material, and the other guys, for how little they contribute are fun, even new additions like 50 Cent, Megan Fox, and Levy Tran don’t get to do all too much among the wide ensemble cast. However, in terms of new additions, the standouts far and away are Tony Jaa as Decha and Jacob Scipio as Galan, they brought a weird charm and humanity to the hyper-violence. Speaking of the violence at play, a lot of it didn’t hit as hard as it typically does in these titles, maybe it’s just me, but I noticed a lot more CGI green screens and digital blood than usual, and that just is eternally disappointing, however when it’s a martial arts fight such as the ones with Jaa, Uwais, or Statham in hand-to-hand, that looks really good in terms of execution (no pun intended)
I can’t say this movie is good or some movie that will get better with time, or hell that we even need more like this, but it’s dumb fun, and we need stuff like this every few years, I just wish they spent more time in polishing the visual presentation of the movie as well as the script. It’s so hard without going into spoilers, but they do two very obvious and at that very overdone cliches and as soon as you see when they set it up you immediately see where they’re going with this and you start rationalizing with yourself “okay maybe it’s not that dumb, maybe it’ll do literally anything different”, and they don’t on either count, it’s almost inspirational in how lazy the narrative is. It’s a very dumb, very standard action movie, but if you’re in the mood for some fun, and maybe a little less than sober, then you’ll enjoy yourself.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
It’s interesting, that I gave both movies the same score, but for entirely different reasons and failures unique to their own genre and craft, movies are ultimately a subjective emotional response-driven medium, and I’m impressed that two very different titles warranted such a reaction out of me, albeit it’s not a good reaction, but it’s one that made me want to talk about them for good or for ill.
I love seeing the highs and lows of everything that comes out in a week, whether that be the latest superhero movie, an animated movie about DaVinci, or whatever may be on that marquee that week, and as a medium, they can cover the full gambit of the human experience, some better than others, whether that be a pretentious horror movie or a tired action movie, I’ll be there, no matter what.