You Won't Be Alone
you won't be alone | goran stolevski | noomi rapace | alice englert | anamaria marinca | witch | witches | witchcraft | period piece | drama | united kingdom | serbia | australia | carloto cotta | sara klimoska | felix maritaud | arta dobroshi | verica nedeska
Film: You Won’t Be Alone
Director: Goran Stolevski
Writer: Goran Stolevski
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Alice Englert and Anamaria Marinca
This is a movie that I got turned on to when looking at movies that were horror and playing at Sundance Film Festival. I put it down on a list of potential one to see for the year. When I saw that this was coming to the Gateway Film Center, I asked my wife if she was interested in seeing this one. She confirmed, so we went opening night. She read the synopsis ahead of seeing it so that was about the extent of what I knew as well.
Synopsis: an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia where a young girl is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit.
To preface this, we don’t get a lot of dialogue. What we do is mostly given through voice-over narration. We start with a cat that journeys to a village. A group of children are playing hide-and-seek. They annoy a woman who lives and she sends them away. She has a baby that I believe is named Nevena. Things take a turn when Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca) appears. She is a local witch who is covered in scars. We learn what caused them later. The mother pleads with her to leave the baby until she is sixteen. From that point on, she can have the child. Maria agrees to these terms. Before she goes, she injuries the infant. Jaime and I weren’t completely sure what happens here, but I believe she ripped out the baby’s tongue.
The mother then hides her child in a sacred cave. There are drawings on the wall so I’m guessing this is a primitive church of sorts. She leaves the baby there and then goes into the village, calling out that a wolf ate her child. Nevena grows up to be played by Sara Klimoska. She is dancing around this cave as her form of entertainment. She is limited in not being able to leave. Her mother visits her, bringing her food. Nevena wants to go with her mother but is scolded. She fears for what will happen if her daughter does.
Everything changes when a hawk comes into the cave. When Nevena’s mother shows up, she believes it to be Maria. The mother chases after it and we hear a noise. Maria then appears. She takes Nevena with her. During their travels, Maria curses this younger woman and then tries to teach her the ways that she survives. This repulses Nevena and Maria abandons her. Nevena learns through spying on Maria how to shape-shift. We then see Nevena taking the form of a woman, a man and even child to survive. She also learns humanity that she missed out on due to her isolated upbringing. She also learns heartbreak.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap. There isn’t a lot to the story as it is more of following Nevena as she takes the form of a few different people. I debated going a bit deeper into things here, but I don’t want to give things away. Personally, I don’t think it would hurt to know. Some people who read my reviews like to come in knowing as little as possible, which is why I’m playing this closer to the vest.
Where I will start then with my breakdown is that this is an interesting time. We don’t know for sure, but as the synopsis stated, we are in the 1800s. The people that we are following are peasants. Their lot every day is to ensure they have food. We see Bosilka (Noomi Rapace) give birth then at once go back into the field to work. This is a hard life. It is a shame to have a vengeful witch like Maria praying on these people as they don’t have much. Maria is an interesting character that I will circle back to.
I will focus first though on Nevena. She is cursed as a baby. First by her mother to protect her. I thought it was interesting that she would carry on that her baby was taken. She sets plans in motion to hide and protect the child. It doesn’t work of course. The problem though is that it stunts her daughter’s growth. She never learns to speak. I have reason to believe her tongue was ripped out due to one of the forms she takes later in the movie. If she hadn’t, I think she could learn. The different forms that she takes are interesting. It gives her life experiences that one person couldn’t get in a lifetime. When Jaime and I were talking at the end, that was an intriguing thing to have here. It also showed some things that Jaime pointed out.
What I mean there is how people are treated. It is done in a way that I wasn’t expecting. When Nevena takes on the form of a woman, she no longer can speak. The people that know her just believe this to be a ‘woman’ affliction. It doesn’t bother them. This does get awkward to the point where I was uncomfortable since Nevena doesn’t know how to act around everyone. When she takes the form of a male, they think he’s possessed by evil spirits and try to exorcise them. This was fascinating to me. Reflecting on this, they needed the man more so him acting differently, they tried to save him. For the woman, they just chalked it up to her changing. Nevena’s best cover is as a child. This works, because when she took her over, something bad happened to the child. This becomes the most heartbreaking for her though as well. I thought this made for interesting social commentary for the different things Nevena experienced.
Now I’ll come back to Maria. From the beginning, we get the idea that she is known as a witch. We learn later that she is a legend and ghost story of sorts in the area. Maria is a bitter woman who kills for food. A few different people point out to her about wanting a child. When we learn the tale, we get to see her backstory play out. I’m glad they did this. By the end of the movie, I said to Jaime that I felt bad for her. She did point out that it doesn’t justify the horrible things that she did and she’s right. We see that Maria got a raw deal. She was older during this era and was considered an ‘old maid’. The man that wanted to marry her wasn’t what she was expecting. His family did something horrible to her. She tried to get what she wanted, but it backfired. Humanizing her is a strategic thing to do here to complicate her character for me.
That should be enough for the story so I’ll go over to the acting, which I thought was good. Rapace is an actor that I’ve never seen do anything bad. Her performance is good for the range that she shows. It is awkward to the point where I cringed. I give credit for that reaction. I like Englert as well. She was cute despite the rough life she is living. One of the best performances is Marinca. She is such a villain through most of it. Once we learn of her past, it makes a lot of sense why. Kilmoska is solid. I like all those that are playing the possessed versions to mimic how Nevena acted in the beginning. That was well done. Other than that, I’d say the rest of the cast was solid to round this out for what was needed. They do well in pushing our leads to where they needed to end up for sure.
All that is left are the cinematography, effects and the soundtrack. For the former it is great. We get some beautiful shots. This was well played. Pulling in the effects, it feels like we are seeing these characters live in the past. That was impressive to me. I also think the focus of the shot is good to hide effects. We get to see Maria changing into different things, some of which on camera. I did enjoy that. We get blood that looks good. There are claws that are witches have. They were fine for the most part. There were just a couple times I could tell they were fake. It was practical so I’ll give credit there. Other than that, I thought the soundtrack fit. It helped to build the atmosphere when needed for me.
In conclusion, this movie is one that I’m glad I waited until the next day to get my thoughts down. I liked this leaving the theater, but the more I think about it, the more I did. We have an interesting period piece here. We are seeing a witch alter the life of a young woman and the effects it has on her. There is interesting commentary that Nevena learns through this. The acting is good across the board. The best performance being Marinca in my opinion. It feels like we are in the era it took place. The cinematography is great and the soundtrack fits for what was needed. This movie is a slow burn. Be aware of that. I don’t think everyone will like this one, to the point where I can see it being polarizing. If you like a bit more meat on the bone for your viewing, see this one. I stand by what I’ve said here with my second viewing as well. One of the best horror movies I’ve seen this year.
My Rating: 9 out of 10