Mike’s Review: What is Buried Must Remain (Portland Horror Film Festival 2022)

★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Elias Matar.

There’s a very real chance that this film may be the first of its kind. True story. One of one. The first ever. Well, that might be a little bit of a stretch, but it’s unlikely that there are any other found footage horror films made by Syrian teens who happen to be refugees living Lebanese settlement camps. If there are others out there we’d sure love to know about them.

What is Buried Must Remain really is all these things, but above all, it’s actually a pretty decent horror film with a couple nicely placed jump scares, and a wonderful tale from a voice that’s probably never been heard in horror. 

The film follows three friends — Alaa (Hassan Alkhlefe), Shadi (Hamza Zahab), and Lara (Asma Jumaa) — that have set out to make found footage film about a cruel French imperialist, get famous, and escape the grind of their settlement camp. Legend has it that the a French gentleman and his family once lived in a house, now decrepit and derelict, that they used as their base camp to exploit local artisans and craftsmen. 

Allegedly there were murders in the house and those murders have translated in to tormented spirits and ghosts.  Early on the film, in a hysterical exchange between Alaa and Shadi, they bicker over the merits of calling the film “Ghost House” or “Murder House.” The scene punctuates the amateur nature of their effort, how unprepared they are for film-making, and, most importantly, how starved they are for success and and a new life. 

Each of the friends is a fascinating and distinct look at the plight of Syrian refuges and the trials they face. Lara is a headstrong female protagonist who questions religion and patriarchy in favor of a new wave of equality. Alaa is the pompous star of the found footage fete who is hellbent on fame and money and the much needed escape from the horrors of war. Shadi is the meek and indecisive filmmaker who is really just along for the ride as he deals with his own escape out from under Alaa’s ambitions. All told the trio is a perfectly balanced ghost-hunting gang.

Fangoria! Woo!
Asma Jumaa as Lara.

The film is really built on the characters, their endearing interactions, and their earnest quest for fame. Sadly, the plot while perfectly fine, is largely a rehash of the Sixth Sense and other ghost-like spook shows. In several instances What’s Buried Must Remain quickly touches on the connection to the Syrian war the character’s refugee status, but just as their about to explore a unique plot line, they quickly walk away. Unlike last year’s brilliant His House, What is Buried Must Remain definitely has an interesting perspective, but it only gives us glimpses in to what could have been. 

Maybe the most fascinating part of the film really has nothing to do with the film itself — save for the fact that it’s the driving force that allowed the film to be made. What is Buried Must Remain is a production of the Lighthouse Peace Initiative and was made through the Manara Center which is in the center of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and has the largest concentration of Syrian refugees in the region. Since 2018, the center has served teenagers and young adults by teaching art, design, and film. When presented with the opportunity to make a film the kids at the Manara Center quickly responded that the only thing on their minds was horror and lots of it! 

Some filmmakers complain about thin budgets, tight timelines, and difficult actors, but none have faced the complexities and backstories similar to the cast and crew of the What is Buried Must Remain. The fact that the film was made at all is nothing short of incredible. This film was blessed with an incredible haunted house location and a wonderful cast. The cast and crew of What is Buried Must Remain should be applauded for their significant efforts and equally rewarded with future horror movie greatness. 

More information about the Lighthouse Peace Initiative is available at: https://lpicorp.org

What is Buried Must Remain is on the festival circuit, but look for it on a streaming platform soon.

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