E. L. King calls the debut feature film from Australian-Macedonian writer and director Goran Stolevski haunting, poetic folk tale and not at all what they expected.
In director Goran Stolevski's debut feature film You Won't Be Alone, which premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is a transcendent journey through many lives that follows the journey of a young witch and an ancient evil spirited crone and Wolf-Eateress. Much of the film is impressively conveyed through almost dance-like movement, expression, interaction with the environment and internal dialog. It's a blend of supernatural horror, folklore and philosophical storytelling. With delicacy, it transports you with the stories it tells through the lives of each person the young witch inhabits.
You Won't Be Alone takes place in an isolated mountain village in 19th-century Macedonia. A young girl is taken from her mother and transformed into a witch by an ancient, shape-shifting spirit. The story follows the young witch who is left to wander feral and alone, to discover the natural world with curiosity and wonder. After inadvertently killing a villager and assuming her body, she continues to inhabit different people, living among the villagers for years, observing and mimicking their behavior until the ancient spirit returns, bringing them full circle.
The film stars Noomi Rapace (Lamb), Alice Englert (Them That Follow), Carloto Cotta (O Dez), and Sara Klimoska (Willow) all take on the portrayal of the young witch. Willow begins the journey feral, unable to speak and alone, placed in a cave to hide her from the Wolf-Eateress, Maria (Anamaria Marinca), who claimed her life as a newborn baby. Maria is mean spirited and covered in scars having been burned at the stake after drinking the blood of livestock many years before. After killing her Willow's mother and assuming her form, Maria give Willow the witches mark, but soon abandons Willow in the forest when she will not bend to Maria's will. Willow comes to find tha she can transform, taking over the lives of others and contemplates to herself, "Am I the Devil?"
It's a poignant and haunting story told like a poem through internal dialogue and movement. Flush with curiosity, the young witch kills a peasant woman in the nearby village and having watched Maria perform the ritual, she shapeshifts into her victim and assumes her life. Willow is now Bosilka. Her spirit ignited, she continues to wield this horrific power to understand what it means to be human transforming into a young man called Boris.The young witch lives as the young man for some time beholding and discovers the world around himself with a sense of wonder, but it is not until transforming into a young dying girl, Biliana, that the young witch is finally made whole. As the young child, she finds the home she never had, a family to belong to and love—something that Maria always wanted and jealously attempts to rip away from her.
I particularly enjoyed the examination of humanity and that it was not limited to a specific age or gender. The film's score was beautifully weaved into each gorgeous scene whether it was a moment of gore or the idyllic countryside. The contempt that Maria feels for Willow and her ability to effortlessly adapt and have a fulfilling life is subltly gestured at as Maria observes the young witch throughout her life. Maria seeks to destory the young witch's happiness out of spite for never finding her own. In the end, the young witch, living as Biliana overcomes the evil not only in Maria, but in herself.
Goran Stolevski, while conceptualizing the film, wanted to create a new folk tale drawing inspiration from growing up in Macedonia saying, “The rituals and traditions depicted within the film are all very much based on real life and real patterns and superstitions, but in terms of the Wolf-Eateress herself, I was just looking for how much witches had a presence in Macedonian folk tales and the most interesting version I could find was someone called the Wolf Eater, who was kind of like a generalized boogie man that was mentioned in a lot of folk tales in the specific region where the film is set. The mythology behind her and the creation of it and the pattern of how you do and don’t become a witch—that was entirely invented on my side, trying to make it feel like it comes from ancient folk tales.”
You Won't Be Alone was haunting, poetic and not at all what I'd expected. Each performance was absolutely stunning as each actor had to convery a range of complex emotions without any dialog. It was visually dazzling, vividly imaginative in its storytelling and should be enjoyed at least once if you're an enthusiast of folklore and horror.