'You Won't Be Alone' Is a Transfixing Journey of Human Identity Directed by Goran Stolevski

Starring Noomi Rapace, Carloto Cotta, Sara Klimoska, Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert, Félix Maritaud
'You Won't Be Alone' Is a Transfixing Journey of Human Identity Directed by Goran Stolevski
Photo: Sundance Institute / Branko Starcevic
"We'll always have our memories" is common sentiment — but it's untrue. Most memories will fade with age, while others feel like they were never there at all. And, of course, no one remembers anything about being born. What writer-director ​​Goran Stolevski gifts to his audience is the ability to see a person newly born, go through everything a human feels and experiences for the first time — all in the context of atmospheric and meditative folk horror.

What if Professor McGonagall had to consume a cat in order to turn into one? Not all witches can be depicted the same, and in the case of You Won't Be Alone, a witch is introduced with a helpless meow and the crunch of bone. An isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia holds dark secrets within its vast, green landscape.

A witch named Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca) is out for newborn blood. Stolevski presents a unique depiction of a witch who has been burned at the stake. Her skin, through practical makeup, is all scar tissue, her entire body a shade of red. She visits a mother who is fed up with her baby's tears, and the mother promises to give up the child at 16 in exchange for Maria scratches out the baby's voice. The mother, however, has no intention of giving her up. In an act of desperation to protect her, she leaves her child to grow up in a sacred cave, lying to the villagers and saying that she was stolen by the witch, who curiously avoids any detection or consequence. 

The child's name is Nevena (Sara Klimoska), and, after spending 16 years in the cave, develops animalistic behaviour. She knows a "devil" is a reason for the loss of her voice, but she believes it didn't run away — but rather, her voice is scared and waiting to come out. Despite her mother's best intentions, Nevena was never safe from her fate and the witch finds her prey, kidnapping her and turning her into a witch just like herself.

The child expresses shock and awe of seeing the outside world for the first time, and Klimoska's emotive face portrays all of the wonder. But she's not the monster the witch wants her to be, so she goes off to revel in her new freedom.

An accident leads her to take the form of a young mother (Noomi Rapace). She takes various forms throughout the film, and the ease to which she can do so speaks to the fluidity of gender and the multifaceted nature of being human. She is able to see the world from different perspectives, and she learns, "When a man is in the room, you shouldn't open your mouth." Understanding society's oppression of women doesn't affect her as it does others, and through imitation, she is able to turn the tables and unleashes her claws against all forms of abuse. In the end, she is free to explore what it means to live and be human.

It may seem strange that our protagonist's sudden change in behaviour isn't met with suspicion, as she's still just a child despite being in an adult's body. She takes on various forms, and it's fascinating and humorous — from Rapace especially — to see her imitate human behaviour like laughter and tears. Rapace's role may be small, but she captures Nevena's essence — as does Carloto Cotta, who captures the character's naïveté in another form. Nevena eventually grows into the person she wants to be, and her journey is expressed exclusively through poignant internal dialogue.

You Won't Be Alone is a technical marvel. A sweeping camera, matched by Matthew Chuang's tranquil cinematography, dives into the film's naturalism, and Mark Bradshaw's enveloping score of melancholy allows the audience to see beauty in the grotesque. It's a lot to take in, and it may feel repetitive and slow at times, but this journey of self-discovery is transfixing. (Focus)