In You Won’t Be Alone, a young girl in 19th century Macedonia is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit. The feature blends elements of folklore and supernatural horror into a melancholic, even philosophical, coming-of-age story.
There are few films which can be described as both grotesque and beautiful, and You Won’t Be Alone is one of them. From sweeping wheat fields to stunning forest greenery to voice overs that wax poetic about the meaning of life, there’s no denying the artistic merit of this one.
But the slopping squelch of organs being pulled out of bodies and the grinding snap of bones being rearranged will keep you from marveling too much at the lighter side of life while watching.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
From the start, it’s clear You Won’t Be Alone has a lot to say about the nature of humanity. That balance of light and dark, good and evil, shines through even in the earliest scenes.
When the Wolf-Eatress arrives at a small home on the outskirts of a village, she intends to spirit away a woman’s baby. The desperate mother pleads to keep the child, striking a bargain with the witch to turn the child over to her instead once she turns sixteen. The witch agrees – but not before ensuring the child will never speak again.
The mother, either convinced the Wolf-Eatress can’t be trusted to keep up her end of the deal, or hoping to prevent the inevitable from happening, takes off at once with her daughter. The girl grows up underground in a sacred cave – a place the mother believes the witch could not access – entirely isolated from the world.
But in the end, the mother’s efforts mean nothing but stunted development for her daughter. The Wolf-Eatress returns, claims the woman’s face, and takes the now teenaged Nevena out into the world for the first time.
As Nevena finally explores nature and interacts with other people for the first time, she also learns the nature of the Wolf-Eatress’ powers. By killing both animals and people and placing their organs inside her own body, she can assume their physical form. And when the older woman uses her one “witch spit” to transform Nevena, she’s blessed – or cursed – with the same ability.
I have to say, the dark folklore energy in You Won’t Be Alone works very well. The film does a great job balancing the things we explicitly see on screen with implying what’s happening just off screen or just out of focus. It doesn’t try to be in-your-face gross-out horror, and it succeeds all the more at making your skin crawl for it.
Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – literally
Embracing her newfound freedom – and transformative powers – Nevena soon decides to leave her witch-mother. Setting off on her own, she uses her powers to quite literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You know, by killing them, stuffing their organs inside herself, assuming their appearance, and taking her place in their lives.
It’s never vindictive, though, these kills. Everything is simply a means to an end – a way for Nevena to discover what life is like. Essentially, You Won’t Be Alone is a coming of age tale. Each life Nevena takes leads to her learning something new about humanity. Their lives give her a new perspective, provide another piece of the puzzle.
This is a film that asks a lot of questions about life. If you had the chance to live as someone else, who would you choose? How could your experiences be different if you weren’t born as yourself? What makes a life worth living? And what makes a person worth sharing that life with?
At times, the speculative narration feels a bit much. But overall, it’s fascinating to watch someone learn who they are through the lives of others.
A beautiful blend of genres
You Won’t Be Alone straddles the line between folk horror and arthouse coming-of-age story. This could easily have derailed the feature – but it doesn’t. Instead, writer/director Goran Stolevski manages to blend these worlds together beautifully. Sometimes poignant, sometimes stomach turning, You Won’t Be Alone is undeniably watchable and will stick with you long after the credits roll.
You Won’t Be Alone premieres in theaters April 1.