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“You Won’t Be Alone” Uses Horror and Artistry to Interrogate Social Tension (Review)

Image courtesy of Focus Features

I’ve found myself coming back to You Won’t Be Alone regularly in my thoughts. It’s a pleasant, rewarding experience when a film grows so mightily upon careful consideration because in the moment of watching the film I’m not sure I particularly enjoyed it. It’s well made and often quite lovely to look at, but the contemplative pacing tended to give my mind time to wander. And yet the evocative storytelling has taken a small, unrelenting hold of my mind…

You Won’t Be Alone tells the story of a 19th century Macedonian witch who takes “possession” of a girl when she comes of age as her indentured apprentice. This style of witch, derived from local mythology, is able to take on the form and body of various townsfolk or animals after consuming a sufficient quantity of them through a ::checks notes:: mouth beneath her skin just above her heart. It leads to some sufficiently grotesque visuals and serves as an effective metaphor for a perpetual looming threat outside of the safety of a group.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Aesthetically, the film is clearly deeply indebted to the works of Terrence Malick. The same actor close-ups and nature focused iconography we know so well from Malick’s oeuvre define You Won’t Be Alone’s style. Unlike Malick, whose filmmaking seems to find the poetry, beauty, and vibrancy in an otherwise horrible world, filmmaker Goran Stolevski redeploys the style to focus acutely on a nature more red in tooth and claw. It feels like a conscious homage, and subversion, of a stylistic forbearer. Cinematographer Matthew Chuang’s camera swoops dizzyingly around entrails slowly ripped from a corpse or a mouth slowly biting into some unmentionable horror. Gone are Malick’s beautifully blooming flowers and slowly willowing wheat fields.

As our protagonist witch shifts between gender and age the film takes on a nearly kaleidoscopic picture of the tensions of a society. She spends time as everything from an attractive young man to a small child to a dog. It’s in the film’s last act that Stolevski’s storytelling gambit really pays dividends. Subtly, the filmmaker has been building out a surprisingly complete and complex portrait of historical town dynamics. The easy misogyny and toxicity of the pre-industrial Macedonian villages serves as an easy lens to examine the pervasive problematic nature of gender power dynamics.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

It’s remains in the film’s kinder moments – a loving childhood or a genuine, loving union – where the full circle nature of Stolevski’s ambition becomes clear. The horrors are always omnipresent, then and now, but life is lived in the small moments of clarity and grace between the horrors.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

You Won’t Be Alone is in select theaters now.