You Won’t Be Alone

A lot of critics made the point that Goran Stolevski’s artsy horror picture You Won’t Be Alone is like Terrence Malick meets The VVitch—an accurate statement, though it does the movie a disservice. This is ultimately a very weird, singular vision, ambitious in the way that the best horror movies are (though You Won’t Be Alone can’t quite reach that upper echelon). 

Director: Goran Stolevski
Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Samantha Jennings
Writer: Goran Stolevski
Cinematographer: Matthew Chuang
Editor: Luca Cappelli
Music: Mark Bradshaw
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Alice Englert, Anamaria Marinca, Sara Klimoska, Carloto Cotta, Arta Dobroshi, Félix Maritaud, Nikola Ristanovski, Verica Nedeska, Irena Ristic

Runtime: 108 minutes
Countries of Origin: Australia/United Kingdom/Serbia
Distributor: Focus Features
Premiere: January 22, 2022 (Sundance Film Festival)
US Release Date: April 1, 2022

Set in 19th century Macedonia, the film follows Nevena, a young woman who’s been confined in a cave for her entire childhood until she’s possessed by a witch on her 16th birthday. She soon breaks away from her demonic mentor/surrogate mother and wanders the countryside, getting to know human existence. (In this way, the movie reminded me of Werner Herzog’s wonderful The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser [1974], which is also about a sheltered young person’s attempts to make sense of the world for the first time.) Nevena soon finds that she can inhabit the skin of any creature she kills, allowing her to first assume the identity of a female villager, then a man, then a dog, then a young girl, offering a fragmentary voiceover narration along the way (the product of the fact that she never totally learned her language).

The movie is partly about how our identities impact the ways we interact with the world and other people, which allows for a multitude of interpretations pertaining to feminism, gender identity, even anthropocentrism and the animal kingdom. Most overt, though, is You Won’t Be Alone‘s critique of patriarchy: Nevena finds that she only has power when she adopts the guise of a young man (and even a sense of power when she roams the countryside as a dog). Whenever she goes through life as a woman, however, she is constantly exploited, berated, and assaulted by the men surrounding her, seen only as a child-bearer, homemaker, or caretaker. The relationships between women in the film thus take on greater poignancy: they rely on each other for support and strength, and to tolerate the abuse they constantly face. Nevena makes note of this fact in her typically broken language via voiceover: whenever she and other women are around men, their mouths must be closed, no laughing or crying, speaking as little as possible; around other women, though, their mouths are always open, finally able to express themselves.

You Won’t Be Alone is in the horror genre almost coincidentally: there are dismemberments and lots of gore, but this is really an existential drama that uses the macabre to convey its points. Shot by Matthew Chuang, the whole thing is brutally beautiful, with the glory of the natural landscape a deliberate counterpoint to the ugliness of human nature. There are some unintentionally silly images near the end that threaten to break the spell, but even this isn’t exactly a criticism: I admire any movie that has the guts to straddle silliness and profundity as dexterously as You Won’t Be Alone.

 by Matthew Cole Levine

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