Review: ‘You Won’t Be Alone,’ starring Sara Klimoska, Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert, Félix Maritaud, Carloto Cotta and Noomi Rapace

February 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jasmina Avramovica and Noomi Rapace in “You Won’t Be Alone” (Photo by Branko Starcevic/Focus Features)

“You Won’t Be Alone”

Directed by Goran Stolevski

Macedonian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed rural part of Macedonia in the 19th century, the horror film “You Won’t Be Alone” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman, who was cursed as a baby by an evil witch, wanders around taking different forms of life, while the evil witch keeps showing up to make sure that the woman remains unhappy and unable to experience love.

Culture Audience: “You Won’t Be Alone” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in artsy, European horror movies that aren’t always obvious and straightforward in their messaging.

Sara Klimoska and Anamaria Marinca in “You Won’t Be Alone” (Photo by Branko Starcevic/Focus Features)

Combining artsy existentialism and bloody horror doesn’t sound like a good match, but somehow “You Won’t Be Alone” does it well enough for viewers who have patience for a slow-paced movie with an impactful ending. Getting to that ending can be too much of a slog for people who don’t care for movies with a language that’s foreign to most viewers, or movies that have imagery and scenes that are almost like pieces to a puzzle. This “slow burn” film has tension, but it will not satisfy people looking for an action-packed thriller. For everyone else who wants to take on the challenge of watching “You Won’t Be Alone,” be prepared for a ride that’s like a ponderous fever dream about witchcraft. “You Won’t Be Alone” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Written and directed by Goran Stolevski, “You Won’t Be Alone” takes place in an unnamed rural part of Macedonia in the 19th century. (The movie was actually filmed in Serbia.) The story is about a cursed female who wanders around the area and is able to shapeshift/transform into anything or anyone she kills. She was cursed as a baby by an evil witch, who shows up from time to time to make sure that this cursed female remains unhappy and unable to stay in one place for too long.

The opening of “You Won’t Be Alone” shows how this curse happened. A woman named Yoana (played by Kamka Tocinovski) lives on a farm, and she has a baby daughter named Nevena. Inside a barn, Yoana is in distress because she and Nevena are in the presence of a witch called Maria (played by Anamaria Marinca), also known as Old Maid Maria. Maria looks like a stereotypical witch hag: Her hair is straggly and in patches on her head. She’s hunched over, and her face looks like it has severe burn scars.

“Have mercy,” Yoana begs Maria. “On my blood, I beg of you! Children are a burden. You don’t want the nuisance.” Maria hisses in response: “Are you a fool, woman? As if I want a child. A bit of blood is all. A fresh-born’s.”

Yoana pleads with Maria: “I’ll bring you other babies! Leave me my Nevena. It’s a daughter you want?” Maria replies, “Spend my one witching spit? On this runt?” Yoana continues to beg Maria not to curse Nevena as a baby and wait until Nevena is 16. This desperate mother takes a knife and cuts the inside of her own left forearm to offer the witch some blood.

However, Maria remains unmoved. “I think not,” Maria says. And then, Maria puts some blood on the baby’s mouth to enact the curse. Yoana is so ashamed of what has happened that she decides to pretend to everyone that Nevena has died. She runs outside and screams that a wolf has stolen her baby.

In actuality, Yoana has secretly hidden baby Nevena in a cave, where Yoana takes care of her. The movie then fast-forwards to a teenage Nevena (played by Sara Klimoska), who’s about 16 years old. She has been mute since being cursed by the witch, but Nevena’s inner thoughts can be heard in a voiceover. Nevena has never been outside of the cave until the Maria the witch comes back to pay a visit.

Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that Maria kills Yoana in the cave. And it’s the first time that Nevena sees how shapeshifting can work. Maria forces Nevena to go outside of the cave with her and begins to teach her how kill, shapeshift, and eventually live on her own. Maria is often cruel and impatient with Nevena, who is initially very reluctant to kill animals for food until she is taught by Maria that killing animals for food is a way to survive.

Nevena finds out that because of the curse, she is now a witch with the power to shapeshift into anyone or anything that she kills. In human form, Nevena has long dark nails that look like talons. Nevena can also self-heal from injuries and doesn’t feel pain. Nevena discovers she has these abilities when Maria burns her as a test. However, even when Nevena transforms into another human, she still doesn’t have the ability to talk.

The rest of “You Won’t Be Alone” follows Nevena’s journey as she encounters other people and how they react to each other. Not everyone makes it out alive. And not everyone Nevena transforms into is a female or a human. Maria shows up from time to time because she doesn’t want Nevena to become too comfortable or happy.

One the people whom Nevena encounters during this often-bizarre story is a mother named Basilka (played by Noomi Rapace), who has recently given birth to a baby. Basilka is in a miserable marriage to a man who physically and emotionally abuses her, but Basilka is treated kindly by her mother-in-law (played by Jasmina Avramovica). Nevena becomes a part of Basilka’s world which consists of other women who are degraded and abused by their husbands, but they women find comfort in each other’s friendships.

Through observations of people around her, Nevena learns to imitate human emotions and what reactions and actions are considered appropriate and acceptable. She doesn’t pick up social cues right away, which leads to some awkward moments. Maria notices that the men in this farming community like to make the women cry. Since viewers can hear Nevena’s thoughts, she has a name for tears that come from crying: “eye water.”

She also makes this observation about people in Basilka’s world: “When a man is in the room, you are not a woman. You are the stew, the bread. Your place—it is inside his palm.” And she has this to say about the camaraderie that the women find with each other: “When the women [are] in the room, your mouth, it never stops opening … You are the looking glass … To the man, you are the water.”

Later on in the movie, which spans over several years, other characters play key roles in Nevena’s journey as a cursed witch. There’s a handsome ladies’ man named Boris (played by Carloto Cotta); a girl named Biliana (played by Anastasija Karanovich); and a boy named Yovan (played by Danilo Savic). As adults, Biliana (played by Alice Englert) and Yovan (played by Félix Maritaud) have life-changing transitions that affect Nevena.

“You Won’t Be Alone” is a movie that is not brimming with dialogue, but the cast members give admirable performances in expressing emotions in this very oppressive world. There are long stretches of the movie that are atmospheric shots where viewers are invited to soak up the scenery. However, amid the lush greenery of the forests and fields there’s bloody brutality, as well as the always-lurking threat that Maria will suddenly appear. Most of “You Won’t Be Alone” is very bleak, but the movie has a powerful message that doesn’t really emerge until the last 10 minutes. Because of this gripping conclusion, viewers who are patient enough to stick with the movie until the end will appreciate the story the most.

Focus Features will release “You Won’t Be Alone” in select U.S. cinemas on April 1, 2022. UPDATE: Peacock will premiere “You Won’t Be Alone” on May 16, 2022.

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