I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable weekend and a belated Father’s Day to all the good dads out there. It was a busy weekend and I am going t be playing catchup, but I finally got the chance to sit down with one of the more interesting films on my watchlist. You Won’t Be Alone is a folk-horror tale about Macedonian witches of the 19th century, but it’s really more of a meditation on the beauty of life and what it means to be human.
An infant girl is pledged to a local witch in exchange for a childhood with her birth mother. Even after hiding her daughter away and sacrificing a “normal life”, the time to honor that debt comes due and the girl is taken by force. Life as a witch isn’t an easy transition and in her learning curve, she uses her new gifts to discover what it means to live life as a human.
This was a bold and impressive feature debut from Director Goran Stolevski, not because his film executes the genre norms of horror effectively but rather because it emphatically rejects them. I am tempted to say that this film isn’t even a horror film at all. There is some great makeup and prosthetic work and the blood and viscera are done with expertise, but that’s not what the movie or the story is. There is one particularly horrific scene and a couple of other graphic ones, but it’s really more of a coming-of-age story for this young witch that had her chance at normal life taken from her.
In exploring this idea, the film becomes a life-affirming journey that reinforces the value of humanness even when we’ve been shown its much darker side. The elder witch, known as Old Maria, has seen the darkness of humankind firsthand and has no intentions of letting her young protege forget that. Anamaria Marinca does a great job making you feel the character’s pain, sadness, and ultimately her bitterness towards humans. She couldn’t find happiness in her life before she was a witch and certainly didn’t find it afterward, leading her to take out her pain on her young apprentice. Her story is a sad one and I wound up feeling bad for her even though she does some unsavory things.
Several different actors play the rookie witch as the character changes throughout the film. We are first introduced to her by Sara Klimoska, then Noomi Rapace, then Félix Maritaud before Alice Englert takes it home. Each of these actors has their unique take on what it means to be this character, but also on how they see her experiencing life through their eyes. It gives the audience a well-rounded perspective on the film’s pursuit of a meaningful whole life.
It is not easy to go against the grain of the majority of other horror films, but it articulates itself well. Matthew Chuang’s cinematography is often spellbinding and Mark Bradshaw’s music is enchanting, so it draws the audience into a very intimate space where the real heart of the story gets shared. The trailer gave off a much different vibe and it probably had to for marketability purposes, but it was actually nice to be disarmed and surprised.
The horror genre is changing. I have seen more and more films lately that are branded as “horror” but are simply not scary. If the goal is to scare the audience, then a film that doesn’t is failing them. That’s a problem I have seen across many of the mainstream offerings. However, I have seen more indie films using the familiarity of the genre to accomplish different things. Scaring you isn’t the intention here. Goran Stolevski’s film carves its own path through the woods and finds something we maybe didn’t know was lost. I am excited to see what he does next.
Recommendation: See it for its willingness to push the boundaries of genre norms and its unique storytelling, but I could also see fans of traditional horror films not liking it.