A young family come under stress when their son starts behaving beyond the pale in Daniel Kokotajlo’s delightfully folky Yorkshire horror. Here’s our Starve Acre review.
The Yorkshire tourism board must have a bone to pick with Mark Jenkin. Until the Cornish auteur came along with his moody 2022 flick, Enys Men, the half of the UK north of Derby had a pretty secure monopoly on the whole folk horror scene.
Thankfully, in a new adaptation of Andrew Michael Hurley’s acclaimed novel, director Daniel Kokotajlo is putting the pendulum firmly back where it belongs. Starve Acre proves itself to be a deeply atmospheric, aggressively Yorkshire (Yorkshireful? Yorkshireous?) folk horror movie, with all the trimmings you’d expect.
Matt Smith, doing his very best “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at” accent, is an archaeologist, recently moved back to his childhood home in the moors with his wife Juliette (Morfydd Clark) and young son Owen (Arthur Shaw). Shortly after, young Owen starts acting a bit odd. Not to worry, though, because kindly neighbour Gordon (Sean Gilder) is on hand to teach the young lad lovely stories about a local sprite called Jack Grey. He’ll need the entertainment, because the weather outside is particularly foggy – and is that a spooky whistling noise I hear in the background?
Starve Acre, if you hadn’t guessed, is folk horror with a capital ‘f’. Joyfully embracing atmospheric convention while delivering a nicely paced, emotional story in its own right, it’s helped along by a pair of powerhouse performances. While Smith has the unenviable task of injecting warmth and empathy into an emotionally closed-off Yorkshire dad, Clark demonstrates once again after 2019’s exceptional Saint Maud that she’s really rather good at this horror stuff. Brilliantly taking on the doting mum role while never entirely alleviating the suspicion that she’s slightly nuts, she’s quickly becoming one of the most bankable stars in British horror.
The mood is suitably creepy, too, even if much of it does feel mined from existing folk horror classics. The constantly whistling wind, empty moors and books full of pagan poetry might not feel the most novel additions, but they’re done well, and delivered with a respect for and delight in the spooky tradition. The knotty tale of grief and locational memory, meanwhile, proves a sad and affecting insight into the grieving process.
More than any of that though, Starve Acre does make Yorkshire look lovely. Considering the horrible weather and the more horrific sides of the folk horror equation, that’s quite an achievement. The tourism board will be pleased.
Starve Acre had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival 2023.
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