Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone: A Grim Fairytale
It’s a Wicked Thing This World
Note: This review contains spoilers for You Won’t Be Alone.
In Goran Stolevski’s feature debut, the folk horror film You Won’t Be Alone, the protagonist does not speak, but the story has quite a lot to say.
About gender and identity, the cruelties of man and patriarchal norms. About mothers and daughters and toxic parenting. About how one’s place in the world determines how one is treated.
You Won’t Be Alone is a horrific coming of age tale set in 19th century Macedonia that follows Nevena, a young woman who was marked as an infant by a witch the villagers call Old Maid Maria. In a prologue very reminiscent of Disney’s Tangled, Nevena’s mother hides her away in a cave to keep Maria from coming back for her when she turns 16.
Instead of whiling away the hours painting, reading, singing, and swinging from the rafters by her hair, Nevena, mute from the witch’s curse, goes through a solitary adolescence as a cave-dweller with periodic visits from her mother as her only human contact.
Maria comes back to liberate Nevena and transforms her into a witch with shape-shifting abilities. However, Nevena doesn’t take to Maria’s cruel mentorship and her “witch-mama” abandons her, leaving Nevena to fend for herself in the woods and in the outside world which she has never known.
Thus begins Nevena’s journey with Maria showing up here and there to torment and to wield her witchy maternal power over her. Old Maid Maria, or Wolf-Eateress, is a proper scary movie monster, sinister and menacing—inescapable. There are times, however, when an almost comedic undertone comes through in Anamaria Marinca’s chilling performance. Maria has been around for centuries and doesn’t have time for bullshit. This nuance gives eerie humanness to the old witch, making her even more terrifying.
Nevena experiences this journey in different bodies. Out of survival—and maybe as a way to hide from Maria as well—Nevena takes the form of a poor peasant mother, a dog, as men, and as a young village girl.
Her last and final host is Bilia. Through Bilia, she gets to experience the childhood that was stolen from her, allowing her to grow into a woman who finds love with a fellow pure and kind-hearted soul. Maria shows up shortly after Bilia gives birth to her own daughter and the tragic, lurid cycle begins again.
However, now it’s missing one crucial element: Maria’s inhumanity.
And therein lies the hope. Not just in this subtle plot twist, but it’s in the verdant green ferns of the forest or the calm blanket of fog hugging the mountaintop. In You Won’t Be Alone, Mother Nature is a steadying constant, providing peace and beauty in a world made violent and ugly by man. The film conveys this rather profound message viscerally through its stunning imagery and sound design.
Stolevski has crafted a macabre and beautiful tableau of ancient lore woven with harsh truths and realities that we still live with today and stuffed it with the innards of notably artistic films from varying genres.
With a similar primitive dankness—both in style and in story—to Robert Eggers’ The VVitch, You Won’t Be Alone is characteristically a period supernatural horror film. It uses silence very meticulously, accompanied by a classical score written by Mark Bradshaw, who frequently works with award-winning director Jane Campion. Then there is the pretty obvious connection to Campion’s The Piano with a mute character at the story’s center. The attention to detail of beauty in nature as well as the loving patience that comes from the camera’s frame is sympathetic yet truthful. Terrence Malick films naturally come to mind.
Noomi Rapace plays Bosilka, the new mother Nevena inhabits on her journey. The childlike wonder and innocence is passed like a baton from Sara Klimoska’s young Nevena to Rapace’s role as first host to the witchling. This portion of the film faintly echoes elements of Nell starring Jodie Foster. The intensity with which Rapace as Nevena in Bosilka’s body observes and studies the world around her greatly strengthens the film’s intention. Rapace seems at home in the folk horror genre as evidenced by this role and her recent captivating turn as María in Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb.
All this being said, You Won’t Be Alone is not for everyone, and certainly not for the squeamish or faint of heart. It’s gothic in its gore and brutality and uses unsettling ASMR-level sound effects that, quite effectively, get us into Nevena’s head where she can communicate her thoughts to those who are prepared and willing to listen. I highly suggest looking up possible trigger warnings before viewing.Watch You Won’t Be Alone