‘Your house. Their home.’
The Poltergeist Diaries is a 2021 horror film about a man named Jacob Taylor who disappears without trace having moved to an isolated cabin. With the help of the footage he leaves behind, his family members, friends and a detective try to find answers to the strange events that are centred around him.
At one point during The Poltergeist Diaries, Jacob Taylor (András Korcsmáros) says: “They wanted me to laugh when I wanted to cry.”
Jacob is attempting to explain why he’s recently abandoned not only his job but also the closeness of his girlfriend and his family and retreated to an isolated house in the middle of the woods. And really, who can’t relate to what Jacob’s feeling? We’ve all been in that situation at some point. We’ve all felt that we were expected to conform to some arbitrary standard and that our honest emotions were not welcome. Not all of us have chosen to go off the grid and isolate ourselves but there’s probably not a single person reading this who has not, at some point, been tempted.
We learn quite a bit about Jacob over the course of The Poltergeist Diaries. We learn that he was always something of an outsider. He was a seeker, a brilliant student who wrote stories and made films and who always seemed to be trying to discover some sort of hidden truth. We learn that he was also close to his mother. In fact, it was her worsening health that apparently led to Jacob leaving the city and heading out to the country. He got a big house for a surprisingly cheap price. He often filmed himself as he walked around the woods that surrounded his new home. He saw things in the woods and he heard things in the house.
Of course, the main thing that we learn about Ben is that he’s missing. The film opens with a statistic, telling us that thousands of people disappear every year in the United States and that only 15% of them are recovered alive. Jacob Taylor is among the missing and whether or not he’s among that lucky 15% is anyone’s guess.
The Poltergeist Diaries is set up as a documentary, featuring interviews with the people who knew Jacob along with footage that Jacob himself shot of the woods and his house. Among those interviewed are Jacob’s girlfriend (Kata Kuna) and his brother (Péter Inoka), along with a police detective (Dávid Fecske) who has his own reasons for taking a particular interest in Jacob’s mysterious disappearance. Eric Roberts even makes a brief appearance, playing Jacob’s apologetic stepfather. As I’ve said many times, any film the features Eric Roberts is automatically going to be better than any film that doesn’t.
It’s an effectively creepy film, one that makes good use of the faux-documentary format. (Jacob being a frustrated artist helps to explain why, even with things getting increasingly strange in the house, he keeps filming.) The first half of the film is dominated by interviews with people who knew Jacob and who are haunted by his disappearance. By the time the film switches over to showing us the footage that Jacob filmed in the house and the woods, the audience is definitely ready to discover what happened.
András Korcsmáros plays Jacob as just being unstable enough to leave some doubt as to whether or not he’s really stumbled across something supernatural or if he’s just allowing the isolation to get to him. He’s at his best when he’s trying to articulate what he’s feeling. His performance captures Jacob’s desperation and makes him into an intriguing protagonist, one who is both sympathetic and enigmatic. You’re never quite comfortable Jacob but you still hope the best for him.
Visually, director József Gallai does a good job of creating and maintaining a properly ominous and threatening atmosphere. The woods that surround Jacob’s house are creepy because they really do appear to stretch on forever and it’s very easy to imagine that there could be someone (or something) hiding behind every tree. The imagery leaves you feeling uneasy and every time that Jacob went outside, I found myself anticipating an attack. The inside of the house is just as creepy, full of dark hallways and menacing shadows. This is a film that keeps you watching for any hint of unexpected or mysterious movement.
It makes for an effectively intense and dream-like horror film, with the final fifteen minutes providing a number of effective jump scares. The Poltergeist Diaries is a film that will inspire you to take a second look at every shadow and jump at every bump in the night. It’s a seriously creepy movie. Don’t watch it alone.
“Managing to work itself out with enough to like in its found-footage setups and an engaging mystery spelt out through a mockumentary approach, this has more than enough to hold itself up over its few minor indiscretions.” Don’s World of Horror and Exploitation
” …József Gallai ramps up the suspense and fear. Talk about character building, we get to know every aspect of Jacob’s life and psyche before the film gets going, and we feel his isolation and his vulnerability. Definitely one to watch out for…” Road Rash Reviews
“A mockumentary/found footage hybrid that other than so many movies of this ilk, really puts an emphasis on structure and thus manages to properly set things upin the first act, thus giving everything that follows meaning, and with meaning come tension and suspense.” Search My Trash
“Despite its title, whatever is haunting the house isn’t a poltergeist. While it’s not clear just what’s going on, the spirits seem to be more conventional in nature. That doesn’t stop The Poltergeist Diaries from being distinctly creepy though. The film doesn’t rely on jump scares, although there are a few near the end. Instead, it creates a sinister atmosphere and lets that work on the viewer’s mind as the events unfold.” Voices from the Balcony
Cast and characters:
András Korcsmáros … Jacob Taylor
Kata Kuna … Kimberly Blake
Eric Roberts … John McBride
Péter Inoka … Ben Taylor
Jon Vangdal Aamaas … Dane Brozniak
Dávid Fecske … Detective Joshua Trott
Anita Tóth … Lena Blomqvist
Laura Ellen Wilson … Alicia Blake
Shawn Michael Clankie … Detective Vincent Munroe – Spirits in the Dark; Cicada!; The Basement
Gergö Elekes … Nathan Brooks
Emese Nagyabonyi … Margaret Black
Péter Krenács … Randy Black
Zsófia Gallai … Helen Blomqvist
Laura Saxon … Emily Trott
Charyse Monet … Iris Palmer
Shawn C. Phillips … Voice of 911 operator
Németbánya, Veszprém and Zirc, Hungary
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Dolby Stereo