[Sundance Review] “You Won’t Be Alone” is a sensory examination of humanity through witchy folk horror

Australian-Macedonian screenwriter/director Goran Stolevsky weaves an intricate emotional tapestry of humanity into its period folk tale that wields horror as a vehicle. You won’t be alone reframes life and its stages through the lens of a witch, creating a sensory experience that is shrewd, languorous meditation with an aid of blood and entrails.

In a remote Macedonian mountain village in the 19th century, a woman goes about her daily business until she discovers an old witch (Annamaria Marinca) standing over her baby. After pleading and exchanging blood, a deal is made, though the woman soon after attempts to hide the baby until she is sixteen. The witch eventually returns to claim protected teenage Nevena (Sara Klimoska), transforming it and then abandoning it. The wild girl soon finds herself borrowing the skin of others, taking on their lives, and observing human behavior.

Almost like a series of vignettes that jump through some of life’s most important stages, You won’t be alone is an intoxicating mood piece that can get a little heavy in its longer, quieter stretches. And there are many. Stolevski favors aesthetics over dialogue and conventional storytelling. Nevena grew up in a cave before being cast coldly out into the world as a newborn baby. Her wild curiosity leads to harsh, primal lessons about life and death, as well as the cruel and superstitious world that created an ancient fit witch in the first place.

Actors Noomi Rapace, Alice Engert, and Carloto Cotta stand out like borrowed skins for the young witch to observe humanity firsthand. They provide emotion and introspection, a contrast to the blank slate of Nevena. They offer almost silent contemplations on the tangible world around them. Nevena’s curiosity is insatiable; she explores childhood, sexuality, all genders and all ages. It is often aimless; Nevena’s explorations are impulsive and aimless.

Stolevski successfully creates a stunning mood piece that makes his deep emotions felt and the world tactile and textured. It captures beauty without turning away from the harsh and ugly. It’s an impressive start with a firm grip on visuals and tone, but it’s also frosty in pacing and without an easy foothold in Nevena’s journey.

You won’t be alone makes a strange, almost otherworldly folk tale. There is no real narrative to anchor the audience; it’s a listless drift through lives and times. Her enchanting charm comes and goes, depending on the skin Nevena scratches herself, sometimes by accident. All of this makes for a poignant and immersive sensory experience, yet incohesive and unhurried. Stolevski doesn’t quite stick to the landing of his circle of life metaphor, but there’s enough artistic merit and splendor to impress those with more forward-thinking and adventurous tastes.

You won’t be alone released in theaters on April 1, 2022.

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