Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review: You Won’t Be Alone ★★★★★

The very essence of what makes us human is explored in Sundance gem You Won’t Be Alone from writer-director Goran Stolevski. Delving into facets of sex and gender, this examination of a quest to find one’s true identity is a beautiful mediation on life which plays with numerous supernatural folk-horror touches ensuring its successful as a strong genre exercise and a poignant humanistic fable.

You Wont Be Alone opens in an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia where a young girl is taken from her mother by a vampiric shape-shifting witch dubbed Old Maria. Gaining similar skills to her new companion, the girl, Nevena (Sara Klimoska) is left to wander the rural expanse taking in human and animal behaviours with a natural curiosity. After inadvertently killing a villager, the young witch assumes her form before going on to inhabit numerous other people – attempting to mimic their behaviour and fit into their established lives.

Stolevski’s narrative begins with themes that may not feel groundbreaking to genre fans – the ancient witch appearing to claim a newborn, followed by her mother hiding her away in a sacred cave until the arrival of her sixteenth birthday when the witch will no longer wait to claim her prize. Yet You Won’t Be Alone does not take long before it begins to venture down uniquely original paths. Initially the old witch (grotesquely depicted with wrinkled skin, often semi-naked, tufts of stringy hair whisping from her head) feasts on local wildlife leading us to presume blood is her tipple, however her shape-shifting abilities are soon revealed with the crone able to take the form of both humans and animals. After this revelation, an opening scene with a skulking cat makes more sense.

There’s a curious maternal bond between the harsh witch and her young abductee, with the girl observing her captor’s abilities and coming to the realisation that she can also perform these. Their journey through the atmospheric rural setting is beautifully captured by cinematographer Matthew Chuang who moves his camera with the protagonists in light, continual movements that sweep us into the quietly absorbing pseudo-Grimm world of You Won’t Be Alone.

Like Chuang’s camera, Stolevski’s narrative is always quietly in motion and truly immerses us as the young witch begins her shape-shifting. A raw overcoming of violence sees Noomi Rapace’s shape assumed by the witch, who attempts to mimic her life working in a small rural farming hamlet. The witch is immediately struck by the differences in which men and women are treated, the havoc of her initial transformation initially just being described by the nearby men as “woman madness”. Sharing that when a man is in the room, women should be like water and trickle around him unnoticed, obliging; when around women there is a sense of elevated sisterhood. Albeit a small role, Rapace impressively captures a sense of someone inhabiting female form, passionately observing the behaviours of those around with a fervent enthusiasm.

You Won’t Be Alone sees our protagonist delve into numerous human forms – living briefly as a man in the form of French actor Carloto Cotta. Lingering with a sensual erotic edge, Cotta’s narrative sees the young Nevena experience her sexual awakening whilst living as this chiselled Macedonian farming stud. A final incarnation in the form of actress Alice Englert see our young witch at the cusp of happiness, gaining a sense of the joys and loves which can heighten the human experience as she lives a human life with Félix Maritaud’s content farmhand. Happiness is not always around long in Stolevski’s narrative as the threat of Old Maria always lurks, ready to deliver a wave of blood-soaked destruction.

With the rich aesthetics and cinematography of a folk-horror classic, a tone which conjures up a blend of ancient mysticism and also some beautifully human moments, You Won’t Be Alone is a triumph. Filmmaker Goran Stolevski chronicles the human experience in this gloriously absorbing meditation laced with enough gristle and entrails to succeed as a strong slice of arthouse horror.

You Won’t Be Alone plays as part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Find out more details here.