Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout, Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man seem like touchstones for Starve Acre, Daniel Kokotajlo’s atmospheric Yorkshire-set folk horror following his acclaimed debut feature Apostasy.
The director adapts Andrew Michael Hurley’s novel of the same name with a skillful hand for chilling sound design and striking visuals (the cinematography by Adam Scarth is sublime) as it explores themes of grief, memory and isolation but it all feels too oddly familiar.
Following the death of his father, archaeologist Richard (Matt Smith) relocates to his family home, Starve Acre, with his wife Juliette (Morfydd Clark) and young son Owen (Arthur Shaw). When Owen starts showing violent tendencies, the weight of it all starts to take its toll on the couple. Starve Acre is a place where patterned, chunky knits are all the fashion and the locals tell creepy tales about wood sprites. The 1970s era clothing and production design are exquisite, as is the beautifully crafted mythology including folktale poetry and illustrations.
Richard and Juliette each disappear into their grief with separate distractions. Richard is busy in his excavation tent with the discovery of a Hare skeleton and uncovering the roots of an oak tree where local hangings took place. At the same time, Juliette is bonding with her sister, Harrie (Erin Richards) and attempting to confront her demons with meditation via a suspicious local woman who carries out a mysterious ritual.
As the testy dynamic between the couple plays out, Smith and Clark deliver delicately attuned performances. And without wanting to give too much away there is a really satisfying Pet Sematary turn to the narrative. There’s lots to admire in the crafting of this modern British folk horror and fans of the genre may adore the many references but there’s something amiss in the emotional stakes.
Starve Acre was seen and reviewed at the London Film Festival