You Won’t Be Alone, 2022.
Written and Directed by Goran Stolevski.
Starring Sara Klimoska, Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert, Félix Maritaud, Carloto Cotta, Noomi Rapace, Irena Ristić, Arta Dobroshi, Daniel Kovacevic, and Kamka Tocinovski.
In an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, a young girl is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit.
It feels wrong to talk about You Won’t Be Alone without mentioning the phenomenal makeup artists. They (among them are Nathaniel Corkery, Karla Lazic, Tristan Lucas, Lois McIntosh, Adeline-Faye Petz, Marina Stojanovic, and Dusica Vuksanovic) have molded together a grotesque witch made up of scar tissue. Whether captured from a distance or up close by cinematographer Matthew Chuang (also finding a serene beauty in the wilderness and nineteenth-century farmsteads), every frame involving Old Maid Maria (played with unnerving tragedy by Anamaria Marinca) overflows with detail and superb craft.
It’s physical disfigurement that doesn’t feel phoned in and serves a purpose to the story, and above all else, should still be talked about by year’s end. The same could be said about writer and director Goran Stolevski making his feature-length narrative debut here, which comes together as an ambitious dark fable coming-of-age story encompassing a variety of perspectives and lives lived.
For reasons I won’t divulge, Maria is after newborn blood, eventually coming across a mother and infant baby (Nevena) that push back with negotiation. Maria will leave the baby alive, only taking some of the blood and her voice away, but when she turns 16 will become a daughter to the witch. Maria agrees and leaves, and the story flashes forward 16 years to where Nevena (Sara Klimoska in a lyrically moving performance, especially with poetic narration delivered as sentence fragments that are easily decoded) is kept hidden by her mother from Maria inside a cave.
It doesn’t matter. Maria finds them anyway and forcefully completes the deal. From there, the lonely witch decides to teach the mute girl feral ways of living. There might be a record for the number of dismembered, mutilated, and devoured animals on display here. Maria also tries to drill into Nevena that the rest of society will never accept her, especially if they find out about her supernatural abilities. However, Nevena is too inexperienced, pure, and naïve to believe or want to live the same way, inevitably disappointing her new guardian into abandonment.
This is where You Won’t Be Alone further opens up into an expensive, compelling rumination on life as Nevena sometimes finds herself fending for her life and killing, only to devour and assume the identity of the murdered. She then attempts (still without a voice) to ingratiate herself into these various communities, piecing together multiple life lessons and formative experiences.
One of the more striking parallels occurs when Nevena winds up transforming into a young man, with her conscious getting a taste of having privilege and not feeling oppressed or worrying about being raped among these archaic gender dynamics. She takes on various forms, young and old, with different goals and motives (played by a host of evocative and committed talents ranging from the reliably excellent Noomi Rapace and rising stars such as Alice Englert), each one weaving together a richer tapestry.
Considering You Won’t Be Alone does take a slow-burn approach, there are brief moments where the cycle starts to feel repetitive (alongside montages a tad too long). However, even during its smallest moments, a suffocating atmosphere of unease and tragedy persists. There are years of happiness, horrific pain, ostracization, and discovery wrapped up in branching life paths, always exhibiting sinister vibes under the surface. The film is also not dictating a life everyone should strive to achieve, but rather suggesting limitless possibilities to consider and try.
You Won’t Be Alone contains innovative and profound depictions of witches (and although awards are primarily fun and games and ultimately meaningless, it will be a joke if this film is overlooked for makeup effects, which the Academy will probably do because they typically see horror as beneath them). Embrace this hauntingly enchanting exploration of fulfillment.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com