[Sundance] YOU WON'T BE ALONE Review – A Hauntingly Poetic Folk Horror
E. L. King calls the debut feature film from Australian-Macedonian writer and director Goran Stolevski a haunting and unexpectedly poetic folk tale.
Director Goran Stolevski's debut feature film You Won't Be Alone, is a transcendent journey through many lives that follows a young witch and an ancient evil-spirited crone, the Wolf-Eateress. Much of the film is impressively conveyed through almost dance-like movements, facial expressions, physicality, interaction with the environment, and internal dialog. It's a blend of supernatural horror, folklore, and philosophical storytelling. With delicacy, it transports audiences 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, Alice Englert, Carloto Cotta, and Sara Klimoska. Each take on the portrayal of the young witch. Willow begins her journey feral, unable to speak and alone, placed in a cave, hidden 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 Willow's mother and assuming her form, Maria gives Willow the witches mark but soon abandons Willow in the forest when she will not bend to Maria's will. Willow comes to find that she can transform, taking over the lives of others, and contemplates to herself, "Am I the Devil?"
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It's a poignant and haunting story told like a poem. 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 and with her spirit ignited, she continues to wield her horrific power to understand what it means to be human. She then transforms into a young man called Boris — living as the young man for some time — who beholds 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 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.
The film's examination of humanity is particularly enjoyable. We are not limited to experiencing the perspective of a specific age or gender. The film's score by composer Mark Bradshaw is beautifully weaved into each gorgeous scene whether a moment of gore or the idyllic countryside. The music swells and falls further conveying the emotions of Willow and Maria. The contempt that Maria feels for Willow and her ability to effortlessly adapt and have a fulfilling life is subtly gestured at as Maria observes the young witch throughout her journey. Maria seeks to destroy 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.
While conceptualizing the film, Stolvski wanted to create a new folk tale drawing inspiration from growing up in Macedonia. He stated, “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.” He succeeds in creating a narrative that's not only beautiful and moving, but thought-provoking.
You Won't Be Alone was haunting, poetic, and not at all what audiences will expect. Each performance is absolutely stunning as each actor conveys a range of complex emotions without any dialog. The film is visually dazzling, vividly imaginative in its storytelling, a perfectly crafted folk tale.