Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Dressed in Corpses
Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Goran Stolevski, You Won’t Be Alone is a horror movie set in a small, isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia. A young girl is kept hidden in a cave for the first sixteen years of her life as her mother tries to protect her from an ancient spirit to whom she was promised. However, the spirit eventually arrives and turns the girl into a witch.
The spirit attempts to teach the girl the bloody ways of surviving as a witch, but the girl becomes fascinated with living her life as a human. After the girl accidentally takes the life of an innocent peasant, she wears her victim’s skin as her own, feeding her insatiable curiosity. She is able to blend in with the prey on whom she is feeding, as the devilish spirit continues to try to push the girl into sinister waters.
Though You Won’t Be Alone is a horror film, it likely isn’t what you’re expecting. Stolevski allows his storytelling to breathe, giving slow developing sequences time to play out. This may seem boring to some. Sara Klemoska, who plays the young girl at age sixteen and is the actress featured most prominently in the film, doesn’t speak. At the beginning of the film, the spirit agrees to the mother’s terms to take the newborn girl following her sixteenth birthday, also taking the baby’s tongue as a down payment.
The young girl, known as Nevena, spends most of her life alone in a cave, so she doesn’t have any education. Klemoska communicates in voiceovers in a cave-woman dialect that gets the point across, but uses strange terminology (like calling her birth mother “whisper-mama”). And because the language is Macedonian, the film has English subtitles.
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The film introduces several intriguing concepts brought to life with fantastic imagery. A "witching spit" is a conversion and witches can only turn one person in their lifetime. So, this selection is something of an honor. They have long black fingernails that carve a devil-scratch above the heart of the one they’ve turned. This heals in moments, but when the witch is ready to shapeshift into their victims, this wound re-opens, the victim’s insides are shoved into their chest, and they take on the victim’s appearance. If they wish to shed this false skin, they simply reach into this hole and drop said insides onto the ground in handfuls until they look like themselves again.
Noomi Rapace is given top billing in this despite only getting about ten minutes of screen time. She serves as Nevena’s first skin, so while her role is important in establishing the character, she's rather short lived. Rapace is only around long enough to run around naked, stare at chickens, and pretend to laugh at peasant’s jokes before never being seen again.
Interestingly, the spirit and Nevena can shapeshift into animals as well as humans. The spirit is seen transforming into a wolf and a boar, while Nevena is seen as a dog. Nevena can also shapeshift into either sex, beginning as Rapace, transitioning into a man (Carloto Cotta), and then finally settling on a young girl that she chooses to wear until she’s a young woman (Alice Englert). Sex also plays a pivotal role in that Nevena sees it as an intrusive and violating act when she's a woman, but when she’s wearing the skin of a man she begins to understand the appeal of sex.
You Won’t Be Alone is a dark fairy tale littered with engrossing and often grisly imagery and intriguing layers unraveling at a deliberate pace. It's a horror film that takes the scenic route to gore and nudity, much more interested in building exquisitely rich folklore with a refreshing payoff. If you're willing to be patient, You Won’t Be Alone breathes like an elegant wine.
© 2022 Chris Sawin