-by Justin Nordell
I can picture it now. The look you’re about to give me. It’s a very specific look where at least one of your eyebrows raise while you squint and look this review up and down. It’s because the information I’m about to give you may sound like it came from a mad lib, but I assure you it is 100% true and quite sincere: one of the best films of the year so far, and a genuine contender for my top films of 2022, is a Macedonian folk horror film released in theaters on April Fools Day… there’s that look I knew you’d give me. But again, this is no April Fool’s Joke: You Won’t Be Alone is one of the best films of 2022.
Opening on a rural farming village in Macedonia in the 1800s, You Won’t Be Alone wastes no time in introducing us to our central antagonist, a Wolf-Eateress (Anamaria Marinca, Otlilia in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and Two Days) as she’s known by the villagers. This badly disfigured and burned creature lets itself in to the home of a new mother and demands her newborn daughter. The mother pleads for her child’s life, promising to give her to this witch once she has grown and come of age. Agreeing to this request, the mother whisks her daughter away to a cave deep in the wood where she hides her away from the world for over a decade. Now a teenager, our baby girl Nevena (Sara Klimoska, Donka in Willow) has never left the cave for her protection… but that doesn’t stop the witch from coming to collect what’s hers. The Wolf-Eateress gives Nevena the supernatural powers to transform into someone else. And suddenly we the audience begin a vast journey with Nevena as she leaves the cave where she’s spent her entire life and travels the land transforming from person to person (most recognizably played for one sequence by Nooomi Rapace, the original Libeth Slander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films).
The horror in You Won’t Be Alone comes from the physical transformations… Nevena can’t just copy a person, but rather has to bring a piece of them physically into herself to initiate the transformation. It’s quite often a bloody mess of body horror and always kills the subject, whether the developmentally stunted Nevena means to or not. The beauty in You Won’t Be Alone comes from seeing a developmentally stunted young woman being quite literally thrust into adulthood, and forcing her to learn and grow to discover what is means to be a woman. If she doesn’t like her experience, she still has the ability to return to the safety of being a child or the simplicity of being a man. Nevena’s journey to discover herself as she quite literally becomes other people reveals the humanity in us all, for better and worse.
First time writer director Goran Stolevski has crafted a stunningly shot metaphysical narrative that deeply touches on the beauty and horrors of humanity. It’s a tall order and surely won’t be for everyone, but those who are willing to give themselves over to the pacing and pride of the story being told will be richly rewarded. Come for the bloody folk horror and stay for the transcendent meditation on humanity, gender, intergenerational trauma, and our very being. Bravo to Focus Features for releasing such a stunning and rewarding feature. This isn’t elevated horror, it’s an art house masterwork.
In theaters now