(director/writer: Daniel Kokotajlo; screenwriter: based on a novel by Andrew Michael Hurley; cinematographer: Adam Scarth; editor: Brenna Rangott; music: Matthew Herbert; cast: Morfydd Clark (Juliette), Matt Smith (Richard), Erin Richards (Harrie), Sean Gilder (Gordon), Arthur Shaw (Owen), Robert Emms (Steven); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Tessa Ross, Juliette Howell, Emma Duffy; BBC Film; 2023-UK)

“Unsettling horror pic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s based on the 2019 book by Andrew Michael Hurley. Brit filmmaker Daniel Kokotajlo (“Apostasy”) writes and directs this unsettling horror pic set in the 1970s economically downtrodden Yorkshire. It’s labeled a modern-day British folk horror film, and it turns on being absurdly scary when not ridiculous.

Juliette (Morfydd Clark) and Richard (Matt Smith), an archaeology professor, are a young couple who have just inherited the remote and bleak country farmhouse (called Starve Acre) of Richard’s late father and have relocated to the Yorkshire moors from the city with their young asthmatic son Owen (Arthur Shaw).

They made the move thinking Owen would be healthier in the country, though Richard was not happy growing up here with his abusive father.

Harrie (Erin Richards), Juliette’s sister, visits just as Richard discovers on the grounds animal bones and obsesses over their strangeness when they seemingly come to life.

While the family walks around their property, Owen says that the demon “Jack Grey” whispered to him to do certain disturbing things. We become aware that Richard’s father has written a book about such weird things happening in Starve Acre, as his book is about Starve Acre’s shadowy history.

What follows is a rather engrossing creepy horror mystery story about the oppressive forces coming out in the daylight to frighten the family enough that they seek help. It remains enigmatic, as it maintains a threatening atmospheric tone throughout. It’s buttressed by marvelous surreal images, fine performances and by being beautifully executed.  

It played at the London Film Festival.

Matt Smith in Starve Acre