★★★★ out of ★★★★★
🩸🩸 out of 🩸🩸🩸🩸🩸
Directed by Goran Stolevski
You Won’t be Alone takes an audacious view of humanity through the eyes of a young shape-shifting witch in 19th Century Macedonia. It is one of the most remarkable reflections on the core essence of humanity in a way that you really do not expect in a horror film. But, be forewarned, this is not an easy watch. Not because of gore or violence (though there is some of that) but because it is the essence of a slow-building plot, spoken in Macedonian, with a main protagonist who is mute. So, have patience, viewers! For those of you willing to put in the time, this is a terrific art piece, shot like a western with stunning vistas of days long gone.
While the rest of Europe enters the industrial revolution, there are untouched areas of the Balkans that are still set in the medieval agrarian ways of life, and that includes the belief in witchcraft. A woman is approached by an ancient and wicked spirit, Maria “The Wolf-Eteress” (Anamaria Marinca) who demands her daughter be delivered to her as a sacrifice. This spirit is a vengeful witch , having been burned at the stake, and returning to haunt the villagers to steal their children and leaves her witch’s mark on the babe before claiming her when she comes of age.
The woman panics and hides her infant, Nevena, in a nearby cave, where she grows up in isolation from the world. But it does not save her, as when Nevena (Sara Klimoska) becomes a young woman, the witch has returned, and claims the teen to be raised to fear and hate humanity, which was so cruel to her. Maria is determined to indoctrinate Nevena into her world, but cruelty is her trade, and she makes a pretty wicked step-mother.
Nevena, now a mute teenager; beautiful but for her impressive raptor-like claws, does what all teens do. Upon seeing the wider world, she rebels against the old burned witch, and stumbles into a farming village in the hills. Driven by curiosity, and devoid of any set sense of morality, she infiltrates the community by killing various villagers and, in a method learned from the old witch, transforms into the physical manifestation of someone else by absorbing their flesh into her body… in a unique and fairly disturbing manner.
Nevena is fascinated and completely perplexed by humanity and learns of the great joys and brutality that is the human condition. She shifts from various townsfolk (and a dog), who, though noticing a change in the personality of the person they knew, are largely unsuspecting of foul play.
From a storytelling standpoint, you get to see Nevena in several forms, performed by several actors. The most compelling performance is from Noomi Rapace, the great Swedish actress (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Prometheus) who is one of the early iterations of Nevena’s forms, Bosilka. She’s wild-eyed and completely enraptured by the culture, and more than a bit odd, unable to process the language and just mimicking what she sees in the others. It’s a tour-de-force performance, and one of the best supporting roles of the year.
All of the iterations of Nevena are terrific watches, (also including Alice Englert and Carloto Cotta) as they serve as innocent, virginal witnesses on what makes humans tick. The good, and the bad. Maria returns to her young former charge and warns her that this will all end very badly, but Nevena has spurned the witchy ways in favor of life with the humans. It all comes to a wrenching and brutal climax, but an appropriate one.
It’s a great film, but a SLOW film. It not only is a period piece but it takes on the cadence and pace of the agrarian life of Eastern Europe. The languid pace allows for real introspection. So, this is a movie for the art-house crowd, who has the stomach for a bit of cruelty with their intellectual fare. It feels extremely exotic, as Macedonian is certainly not a common language in popular films, so it really feels like worlds away.
This will go into the upper tiers of folk horror classics if enough people see it. If films like The Witch, Hagazussa, or The Wind are your speed, then you may have hit the jackpot with this film. It has a lot to say in the sub-text. Sexuality. Spirituality. Gender roles. The value of labor. The value of community. The dread of isolation. And again, the nature of humanity.
You Won’t Be Alone is available on Amazon Prime for rent or purchase. It is not rated, but it would certainly merit an R-Rating for sex, nudity, violence, and a little gore. Also, I will mention that I would mention domestic abuse trigger warning.
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