Movie Review: ‘You Won’t Be Alone’ Immerses You In Brutality
Director: Goran Stolevski
Writer: Goran Stolevski
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert
Synopsis: In an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, a young girl is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit.
We have seen many directors deliver great pieces of work through modernized folk horror during this past decade–most notably Robert Eggers’ The Witch and Ari Aster’s Midsommar. However, many more have gone under the radar, like A Field in England, November, Possum, and Hagazussa. All of these capture a wide variety of tales about isolation, religion, and the essence of nature by using elements of folklore to invoke dread, fear, or a sheer sense of unease in their audience. Going through a similar route comes Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t’ Be Alone, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It was being sold as a pure blown-out horror flick for some reason, instead of embracing its dark fairy tale-esque demeanor. It does contain an array of bloody moments, yet it doesn’t succumb to that for the most part. A similar thing happened with Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb (which also has Noomi Rapace in its cast) after its premiere at Cannes. Stolevski’s focus with this film is to tell the tale of a woman whose haunting curse can make her shapeshift into the form of her choosing. This sets a path for discovery and visual poetry as it finds bewitching ways to visualize the themes of the dangers of evil and the nature of humanity.
Set in 19th-century Macedonia, You Won’t Be Alone tells the story of the Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca), a witch terrorizing a small rural village. It haunts the younglings’ minds as if it were an ethereal boogeyman with a desire for blood that will capture them in their sleep. By just mentioning her name, they become suspicious of their environment to see if she is or isn’t present. One desperate mother even tries to make a deal with the bygone presence. Instead of promising her daughter in the first few days of birth (like many stories we have seen), the girl is to be taken by Maria when she turns sixteen. The Old Maid doesn’t want to kill the young Nevena (Sara Klimoska); Maria just wants to offer her “spirit” to a successor, which comes with her shape-shifting abilities and hawk-like talons. What follows next is an exploration of humanity and nature, as Maria guides her on how to live the double life–the duality of being both a human being and a witch. Because Nevena was deprived of her speech when she was a newborn, the film’s prevalent dialogue is through whispered voiceovers–internal monologues (disjointed and poetical, scarred by her past) are heard as she explores the existential tangles of the new world.
During her first travels around the forests and meadows of Macedonia, Nevena unintentionally kills a peasant (her first lesson of life and death). This leads her to test her newly obtained shapeshifting abilities to live life in her skin, partially similar to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. As her curiosity ignites, she wanders around the plains through vessels in order to understand what it means to be human. You Won’t Be Alone is approached by director Goran Stolevski as a series of vignettes that showcase the various stages of life and some of its key moments, with different actors helming the role of the “possessed” bodies. Each form that she takes has a purpose and motive; it’s not only to fulfill its horror “needs”, yet you could argue the length of the time spent in each form. It helps to explore gender fluidity in an empathetic way, albeit some of its ideas in the latter half of the narrative are not constructed as well as the ones in the beginning. Nevena mostly sees the world through women’s eyes (ranging from different age groups), but there is a moment where she transforms into a man. This creates a new parallel as she explores the archaic gender dynamics from a new perspective.
Although there are some barbaric scenes, as the protagonist learns how to live in a world that seems unknown to her, there are sequences of delicate beauty, shot in a Terrence Malick-esque demeanor, comparable with A Hidden Life (without the pristine delicacy of how he sees nature) by cinematographer Matthew Chuang. These two, brutality and love, coexist in such an uncomfortable manner both narratively and cinematically. This creates an atmospheric sensation that immerses you in the story more than the viewer initially anticipated. It might get under the audience’s skin, however, both in frustration because of its slow-burn approach and narrative repetition (which is the core problem with You Won’t Be Alone). Some montages take more time than they need to. The film is at its best when it embraces its suffocating environment that fills the screen with dread and unease–the sensory experience that the story brings. Although the ending is not as strong as one might want it to be, I feel that the rest of the picture has enough interesting ideas and horrific beauty to warrant multiple viewings to capture its plentiful metaphors.