April 15, 2022 | LIFE | By Frances Thyer | Illustration by Xixi Qin

While premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Director Goran Stolevski shocked audiences with the indie-folk and horror movie “You Won’t Be Alone.”

The film gained traction out of Sundance due to its thought-provoking narrative, beautiful cinematography, and horrific yet visually poetic sequences. The film provides commentary on complex ideas including the construct of God, oppression of women, and the implications of being misunderstood.  Nevertheless, the film manages to be consistent with themes in other lore-based horror films; “You Won’t Be Alone” is a cinematic dreamscape within a coming-of-age nightmare.

The film is set in the 19th century with exclusively Macedonian dialogue, the official language of North Macedonia in southeast Europe. In a small village, audiences discover the fable of Old Maid Maria, the Wolf-Eateress and a witch who’s jealously and personal grievances led her to terrorize the innocent and ultimately be burned at the stake. The witch takes claim of a newborn’s soul, leaving her mute and alone in a cave until the day of reckoning comes at her 16th birthday.

Diving into the humanity of the animalistic lore, the audience is left feeling empathy for the protagonist even in her cruelest moments, as she attempts to experience the pleasures of human life that were so quickly and wretchedly taken away from her.

“You Won’t Be Alone” presents themes of love and motherhood, with the movie both beginning and ending with the presence of a baby. The witches have the power to shift into the bodies of any other being, whether that be an animal, adult, or even child. Through a deep curiosity about the human experience, Stolevski explores the lengths to which one would go to feel loved and be able to show love towards a child of your own.

Perhaps the biggest message of “You Won’t Be Alone” is in its commentary on human life as an outsider. Everyone would prefer to soothe themselves with the idea that mental assimilation is possible in order to enjoy the highs of human existence.

In this film, we see that in even 19th century rural society, an unassimilated mind cannot replicate the awareness and empathy essential to being human; even the cinematography focuses on shaky close ups, shifts in and out of focus, and alluring angles from the perspective of the new witch as she comprehends reality, both in its beauty and its horrors.

Given the curse and gift of immortality which the witches are subject to, time becomes an underlying theme in the film. Without the time-span characteristic to human existence, the witches’ experiences of grievances and endings paint an honest picture of life without consequences. Time passing in “You Won’t Be Alone” will also remind audiences of movies like “Arrival”, where each moment is essential in understanding both the future and the past of the characters.

At one point the narrator says that life is truly just like a river, “flowing and flowing yet staying in the same spot.”

As with sound in the film, characterized by periods of consistent background noise broken up by awakening sharpness, the dialogue consists of primarily stream-of-consciousness voiceovers distinguished by moments of empathy-inducing honesty.

While not obvious at first, the entire film does revolve around the presence of others; even when the protagonist is alone, she is hearing leaves rustling, fretting over the whereabouts of the other witch, or wishing she could fully assimilate into society. She will never be alone because, fundamentally, she will never be able to. If you’re looking for something eye-catching that just might keep you up at night, “You Won’t Be Alone” is the film to see.

“You Won’t Be Alone” is now playing in theaters.

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