Completely subverting all of my expectations, Goran Stolevski’s feature-length debut turned out to be not a folk horror (though it is where it takes its cues from), but rather a gentle and poignant lyrical meditation on nature, gender, identity, sex and human condition depicted through the eyes of a young, unwillingly created witch, Nevena, with a neat shapeshifting ability. Think Terrence Malick in a remote area of Balkans in the 19th century, with intestines exchange during transformations (many kudos to practical effects artists), and you might get the idea of whether you want to see this uniquely bizarre take on witchcraft or not.
Shot in the southeast of Serbia, mostly in the sparsely populated village of Pokrevenik (in the municipality of Pirot), and beautiful locations of Mt. Stara Planina, You Won’t Be Alone lulls you into a dream state by way of Mark Bradshaw’s hauntingly evocative score and Mathew Chuang’s often sun-bathed, Lubezki-inspired cinematography, gathering an ensemble cast who all give superb physical performances. Namely, Stolevski narrates the story in Nevena’s whispery, introspective voice-over, so neither of the actors, save for Anamaria Marinca who portrays the villainess Old Maid Maria, had to learn an archaic Macedonian dialect – instead, they employ body language and facial expressions to guide us across the not always fragrant meadows of emotions that the (anti)heroine experiences for the first time, ‘dressed in corpses’.
Despite the gruesome manner in which Nevena takes her disguises, one cannot help but sympathize with the poor girl who learns that life is even more wicked than her ‘witch-mother’ or, as she’s called by villagers, ‘wolf-eateress’ Maria – a tragic character whose past, along with the reasons of her ‘evil’, is unveiled in the final act. What she has been through doesn’t justify her hunger for newborns, but it does offer a different, nonjudgmental perspective on her kin.