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The Poltergeist Diaries (2021) Review

The Poltergeist Diaries is the third film by writer/director József Gallai that we’ve reviewed here. The previous two, Spirits in the Dark and The Surreal Project aka The Whispering Man, were above average found footage films. This time however, while he hasn’t entirely strayed from that genre, he has done something a little different.

While it does incorporate some found footage, The Poltergeist Diaries is a fictional story framed as a documentary. When done right, mockumentaries can be extremely effective. By using a style associated with nonfiction, they make fiction easier to accept and more likely to scare or disturb the viewer.  Fury of the Demon, Savageland and We are the Missing are three good examples of that style.

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Jacob Taylor (András Korchmáros) has disappeared and his brother Ben (Péter Inoka) and his girlfriend Kimberly (Kata Kuna) want to know what happened. They team up with a documentary filmmaker (József Gallai) in order to get some answers.

The first part of The Poltergeist Diaries consists of interviews with the people who knew Jacob. We learn of his dissatisfaction with his life in the city. His artistic tendencies and the effects his mother’s illness had on him and his decision to move to a more rural location. We also hear from Detective Munroe (Shawn Michael Clankie, Cicada) and Detective Trott (Dávid Fecske) who worked on the case.

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The second part of the film incorporates footage Jacob shot at the house he bought out in the woods, which does give the film a found footage type feeling. This is intercut with various video messages left for Jacob, including one from his estranged stepfather (Eric Roberts, Angels Fallen, 7 Deadly Sins). Interestingly enough, despite all the video segments in The Poltergeist Diaries, Shawn C. Phillips (Rise of the Mummy, The Leprechaun’s Game) doesn’t appear as a YouTuber, he’s the voice of a 911 operator.

Structuring the film this way means that all of The Poltergeist Diaries’ spooky stuff happens later in the film. Those who want a film that starts with a bang will not be happy with that. I liked the way it let us get to know Jacob and his somewhat complicated relationship with his brother and girlfriend right away. More importantly, we get some understanding of his mental state before anything paranormal occurs.

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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.

The dark, dilapidated house with its mysterious locked door as well as the surrounding woods, complete with hidden graveyard, are ideal settings for something like this. Gallai makes good use of them. I constantly shared Jacob’s feeling that something was there in the darkness, waiting just out of sight. I may not have jumped out of my seat, but I was looking over my shoulder.

The Poltergeist Diaries hasn’t found a distributor yet, but you can check the film’s Facebook page for updates and announcements.

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