You Won't Be Alone is the best folk horror film since The Witch. Writer/director Goran Stolevski's stunning feature debut is an extremely gory, unexpectedly profound, and darkly beautiful story that uses the genre to explore no less a subject than the nature of life. To be clear, it's not a mainstream fright film filled with jump scares and an easily-digestible plot. This is arthouse horror all the way, perfect for viewers who want substance to accompany their chills.
The setting is a mountain village in 19th century Macedonia. A witch named Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca) shows up with the intention of kidnapping a baby. The infant's mother makes a desperate plea: let me keep my daughter until she turns 16 and then you can have her. After the witch agrees, the mother whisks her baby away to a cave, thinking it will be safe there. Instead, the child grows up with no awareness of life outside that cave. Sixteen years later, the witch returns to claim what she's been promised, to the mother's dismay.
Nevena (Sara Klimoska) is promptly turned into a witch by Maria. The two become separated, and the teen discovers that, in her new form, she can inhabit the bodies of humans. Her first target is peasant woman Bosilka (Noomi Rapace). Seeing the world through her eyes proves educational, leading to a desire for more knowledge. From there, You Won't Be Alone tracks what happens as Nevena infiltrates a series of other bodies, including a dog and a man, subsequently becoming awestruck by the experiences she has.
Stolevski gives the film a languid, contemplative tone. If Terrence Malick did horror, he might make a picture like this. Aside from the gory moments where Nevena puts herself into someone else's skin, the story is generally a series of reflections as the character incorporates new information in each guise. (Her child-like voiceover, during which she attempts to find descriptive words, underlines her naivety.) The whole point is to witness how someone who grew up feral might interpret things the rest of us already know.
One of the most gripping sections finds her in the body of a male, where she feels the constant pull of sexual desire. That unfamiliar feeling both terrifies and thrills her. In another, she gains insight into the submissive role of women in this village's culture. Much of You Won't Be Alone's potency comes from how it encourages us to shed our own perspectives and look at the issues Nevena faces from new angles. In essence, we become her, peering out through eyes that are not our own to see what can be learned. By the time Nevena and Old Maid Maria reunite for the climax, she is no longer the wholly innocent figure she was at the beginning, leading to a dramatic conclusion.
Rapace, who is only in the film for a short time, is the most well-known name among the cast, yet everyone does an outstanding job, using their intentionally minimal screen time to bring Nevena's journey to life. Marinca is particularly good as Maria, creating an ominous presence that looms over the proceedings even when she's not on camera. The movie also boasts excellent cinematography and production design that immerse us into this location. You feel like you've been somewhere else after watching it.
You Won't Be Alone is very subtle. Close attention is required to pick up on everything taking place. That quality causes you to lean in, to allow yourself to be absorbed. Nevena is cruelly ripped away from her mother and turned into a form she never asked to become. She is threatened with control by Maria. And yet, those horrors ironically provide her with a pathway to life. You don't often find a horror movie with such emotional depth.
out of four
You Won't Be Alone is rated R for violence and gore, sexual content, graphic nudity, and sexual assault. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.