A veritable masterpiece existing on the verge of arthouse horror and folk-tale phantasmagoria, You Won’t Be Alone (2022) is destined to divide audiences and perhaps make A24 wonder how did they not acquire this film that’s tailor-made to their portfolio.
In You Won’t Be Alone (2022), writer-director Goran Stolevski takes us to a minute village, stuck between the vast hills and mountains of Macedonian highlands in the 19th century. In a hut lives a single mother, whose peace is disturbed by the Wolf-Eateress, a primeval witch in her full ugly display, who wishes to spirit away the child as her protege. In a parental act of heart-wrenching desperation, the mother locks her daughter in a cave, far from the witch’s eyesight. The devil needs to paid what he is due though. Hence on her sixteenth birthday, Nevena (Sara Klimoska) meets her new mother and soon leaves the rocky sanctuary to become the new vengeful spirit that shall torment the locals.
However, Nevena discards the very notion of becoming the hateful menace. Instead of pleasing the parochial needs of those wishing for a soaked-in-blood horror crowdpleaser, Stolevski chooses to patiently observe how Nevena – raised by the cold rock formations, far from the dangers and beauties of this world – explores the new surroundings. The intimacy and grace of her first-time experiences exist in stark contrast to the Wolf-Eateress who embodies the fairytale kind of evil – full of trickery, and false friendliness.
Therefore, the idea is that Nevena’s curse becomes her means to learn the ways of the world. One of the most bonkers ideas in You Won’t Be Alone (2022) revolves around the idea of body-snatching, and how the old witch nonchalantly rips organs from her consecutive hosts, scattering them around as an apple peduncle left after eating the fruit. Violence never becomes the purpose of his film though, nor the main source of the emotional impact.
Hence, Nevena wears the skin of various hosts – a young girl named Bosilka (Noomi Rapace), a hefty field worker Yovan (Felix Maritaud), and a few others creatures who all become vessels in the young witch’s apprenticeship. Each reincarnation provides a novel experience and compliments the girl’s transformation.
It’s sinister and poetic in equal measures too. Despite the many layers of symbolism, folk underlining and very offbeat nature of the whole undertaking, the message Stolevski puts forward. Happiness is dictated by the out-of-our-hands factors surrounding us, as well as the system of values we live within. Distant as it is time- and geographically-wise, You Won’t Be Alone (2022) makes very timely comments about the roots of prejudices and inclinations stemming from patriarchy and class-based society.
Part of the film’s appeal owes to the idea of having several actors carrying the same character DNA. I recall praising Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016) for pulling off the many faces of the film’s protagonist, and that kind of art takes place in You Won’t Be Alone (2022) too. Sara Klimoska sketches the first draft, with her hazy, curious eyes and childish moves. Noomi Rapace adds a touch of wild, frenetic energy, while Felix Maritaud imbues Nevena with strength and something sturdier, taut, and observant. Each actor, who plays Nevena (there are more than Rapace and Maritaud) masterfully restores the same confusion and dizziness of the protagonist, as well as her never-dying curiousness.
Technically speaking, the Macedonian filmmaker displays a very mature, very unique directorial style. Goran Stolevski smuggles the grace of Terrence Malick through the visual aesthetic that’s very close to Tree of Life (2011) and A Hidden Life (2019), as well as the narrative concept known from The Thin Red Line (1999). Whenever the camera speeds during its pursuit after a cat or holds to catch rays of sunshine appearing on Nevena’s face, Stolevski writes his ode to Malick.
On the other hand, fans of occult horrors will surely spot the way You Won’t Be Alone (2022) refers to The Witch (2015), particularly in its grounded, very earthly, and organic approach toward horror. Setting aside the symbols-filled center of the story, it is bloody violent. I’ll just say that even horror veterans might find a few scenes rather disturbing.
I’m also aware that Stolevski’s style – wobbly frames shot with a hand-held camera, embellished by the enigmatic voice-over and a handful of symbols sprinkled everywhere – is enough to discourage less resilient viewers in no more than ten minutes. But underneath the hard-to-crack facade lies a beautiful tale that you are bound to talk about long after the screening.