DISCLAIMER: Mild spoilers abound for You Won’t Be Alone.

This year’s Sundance Film Festival introduces a crop of thrilling, innovative feature debuts, including Australian filmmaker Goran Stolevski‘s horror drama You Won’t Be Alone, spoken in Macedonian. 

It’s not often that a horror movie profoundly resonates with me. Perhaps it’s because I find most flicks of that genre derivative and, to put it plainly, not scary. The last one that stuck to me like glue was Get Out (I’ll follow Jordan Peele to the ends of the Earth).

Maybe I need to branch out of my cramped little American box and explore more international horror films. You Won’t Be Alone serves as a brilliant catalyzer for that endeavor. 

You Won’t Be Alone takes place in an isolated 19th-century Macedonian village, wherein mothers use the story of Old Maid Maria, a.k.a. the Wolf-Eateress, a witch roaming the landscape, to ensure their children behave. 

Noomi Rapace in You Won't Be Alone

One mother’s infant daughter receives a visit from Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca). The mother bargains with the witch, pleading with her to wait until her daughter, Nevena, is 16 years old before kidnapping her. So, baby Nevena moves to a sanctified cave where Maria cannot breach, and there she spends the first 16 years of her life — in utter solitude. 

However, Maria’s a skinwalker, transforming into a different creature to trespass on holy ground. 

Maria kidnaps Nevena (Sara Klimoska) and turns her into a witch. The two embark on a journey for blood, killing whoever they need to survive. But Nevena wants to live the life Maria took from her, so she begins a deep exploration of humanity through the myriad skins she wears. 

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You Won’t Be Alone is spellbinding and heady arthouse horror at its best. Matthew Chuang‘s cinematography perfectly encapsulates Nevena’s perspective as someone seeing the world for the first time. The uncomfortable close-ups, “shaky cam” style and captivating shots wholly immerse us in Nevena’s universe.

Her eagle-eye examinations of humanity, even as she ironically snuffs out lives to live as other people, are thought-provoking and poignant. Her tenuous grasp on language after being locked away for so long punctuates the poeticism of her thoughts. 

You Won’t Be Alone doesn’t boast much exposition, nor any spoken dialogue from Nevena. Instead, we hear her stream-of-consciousness voiceovers, simplistic yet continuous punches to the gut in their truthfulness. 

So much of this film relies on “show” rather than “tell,” and never once condescends to hold our hands for fear we might not understand. 

The ethereal imagery and the film’s stunning landscape showcase the mesmerizing backdrop of humanity, representing a stark reminder that Mother Earth’s beauty gives us reason enough to do better despite our penchant for violence and wretchedness. 

If you’re a lover of intricate, in-world mythology, You Won’t Be Alone capitalizes on that, displaying an interwoven universe that plays with folklore and witchy mythos. 

While the film advertises Noomi Rapace as a lead character, she appears in roughly 20 minutes of You Won’t Be Alone‘s almost two-hour runtime. Rapace portrays Bosilka, a woman Nevena inadvertently kills then fully inhabits, the first victim of her skinwalking. Rapace brings a childlike tenderness and sweet naivete to her performance as a young girl learning to live among other humans. 

Other characters Nevena overtakes include Boris (Carloto Cotta), where she discovers what it’s like to be a man, and Biliana (Alice Englert). But Old Maid Maria’s an envious witch, and it’s not long before she strikes. 

Marinca spews venom in this role, delivering a brutal, bold and visceral performance. Stolevski pulls back the curtain on Maria’s story, and we see she’s a fully-formed human with wants and needs behind her monstrous façade. The few times we see Maria’s vulnerability punctuate how broken she is, which Marinca conveys with nuance. 

Noomi Rapace in You Won't Be Alone

Klimoska also shines as Nevena in the primary stages of her life, brilliantly executing the difficult task of seeing and interacting with the world for the first time. In addition, she wholly embodies Nevena, showcasing her personality, thoughts and feelings via her physicality. She doesn’t have spoken dialogue on which to fall back. 

Rapace, Englert and Cotta add layers to Nevena with gorgeously physical performances. In a way, watching them use the space and embrace their physicalities is reminiscent of sitting in the audience of a stage production. 

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You Won’t Be Alone explores multiple themes, including being human through a supernatural-horror lens. “Identity” is another vital theme at play — finding it, having it taken from you (Maria marking Nevena as a witch; Nevena taking other identities as her own) and regaining your sense of self. 

This film reminds us that we all have monsters to contend with, but that doesn’t make us less human. 

Despite the title, You Won’t Be Alone hones in on isolation. Maria turns Nevena into a witch, essentially making her “one of a kind.” 

Goran Stolevski weaves a humanistic, mesmerizing, thought-provoking, biting tale complete with beautiful direction, a quietly cinematic score by Mark Bradshaw and top-tier performances. You Won’t Be Alone is a macabre coming-of-age story that stays with you long after the credits roll. 

Sundance Film Festival runs until January 30. For more information regarding the online festival schedule, go here




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