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  • Rev Horror

What Is Buried Must Remain

Dir. Elias Matar (2022)

A group of filmmakers decide to make a documentary about a haunted house, and unsurprisingly, things go awry.

It's so easy to forget, when living in America or a similar country whose struggles are the definition of "first world problems," that the rest of the world is experiencing a wide range of difficult and dangerous issues. Social horror, a subgenre that has become all the rage in American cinema, is often an exploration of racism as we know it in America, or social inequalities that we see in our everyday lives. But what about the social horror in other countries? This overlooked genre of horror, which we explored previously in with films like Tommy Guns andThe Hole in the Fence, is fascinating from a sociopolitical perspective. There is perhaps no topic more important on the world stage today than the conflict between Israel and Palestine, a topic briefly discussed (and one which serves as the backdrop) in director Elias Matar's film What Is Buried Must Remain.

Taking place in a Syrian and Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, the story is about three filmmakers who are looking to explore a haunted house at the edge of the camp. Rumored to have been run by French landowners who brutally controlled the local population and committed a series of murders, the house is said to have been behind the disappearance of several local children in recent years, and the filmmakers are attempting to tell that story from within the creepy mansion. The documentarians are exploiting the story as much as anything, and they quickly learn that there is more than a bit of truth to the scary stories.

Found footage can be difficult to pull off, but What Is Buried Must Remain does a pretty good job of establishing a good reason for the cameras' presence and controlling the shots in a way that comes across as pretty believable. All of the found footage tricks are here: strange sounds off-camera, slamming doors at the edges of the frame, dingy surroundings that just look creepy, and of course a scary backstory that lends credence to the fear shown by the people operating the video feeds. The acting in the film leaves a lot to be desired, but it's difficult for me to parse whether this is a cultural disconnect or if the actors are as wooden as they appear on-screen.

The one area where the film fails in this regard is its continuity and dedication to the found footage genre: there are many shots that don't seem to be coming from one of the cameras the film has already introduced, which certainly helps the movie to have a more cinematic quality, but outright flies in the face of what found footage is supposed to be. Depending on your appreciation of the genre, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but as someone who truly appreciates and values found footage, this is always an at least minor annoyance, and serves to take me right out of the film. This, unfortunately, misses the entire point of the genre: found footage is supposed to put the audience into a first-person experience of the scares, and when you remove that element, it's just a standard horror movie that feels cheaper than it otherwise would have.

Once the action starts, however, and the ghosts begin to make themselves known, the film does a decidedly good job of offering the maximal creep-out with what it has at its disposal. The history being discussed is disgusting and traumatic, and it's a worthwhile topic for exploration with the genre. What Is Buried Must Remain does a great job of exploring this history and showing just how terrible and resounding its impact is, even to present day. For this alone, the film is a worthwhile endeavor, even though it does, at times, fail in its delivery.

The horror is, indeed, horrific, and you really can't ask for a whole lot more from a film in this vein. The last half of the movie's dedication to the found footage aesthetic and style, and its dependence on creepy shots of ghosts and the terrible history of the house, is quite impressive and well done. If you can make it through the first half, the establishing sequences that set up the story that is to come, the rest of the film is enjoyable and worth a look.

Who this movie is for: Found footage lovers, Foreign horror fans,

Bottom line: What Is Buried Must Remain is a story that needs to be told, but it's not always told in the best ways. It plays with the boundaries of found footage without ever fully committing, but when it's on, it's definitely on. It's a social horror about a topic that I haven't seen explored yet, and the echoes of colonialism and refugee camps are rife for exploration within the horror genre. It is good to see these topics getting explored within the genre, and this is definitely a film you want to check out if you're interested in the topics. It's streaming on Screambox this month, and if you're not already subscribed to the service, you're missing out.

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