A visual and emotional triumph, You Won’t Be Alone is a bewitching tale that will keep audiences spellbound. Sundance brought us the last great look at witches years ago in the divisive film, The VVitch. But while The VVitch kept its witches in the background as a family tore itself apart in the foreground, You Won’t Be Alone takes us through the life of one witchy outcast from the very beginning.
In a remote village in Macedonia, a frightened mother (Kamka Tocinovski) tries desperately to protect her baby from the hunger of a mysterious, shape-shifting figure. Bargaining with the witch (Anamaria Marinca), the mother suggests a compromise: to return once the child has grown, never intending to honor the deal. As the witch leaves, she takes the baby to a large cavern where she’ll be raised in secret.
The production design lends all of the sinister pleasure of a traditional, twisted fairy tale as the daughter, Navena (Sara Klimoska), is confined to her cavern. She entertains herself, listening for noises of the outside world, and is scolded by her mother for doing so. However, all of the protection and secrecy prove futile as the witch returns and steals Navena away, giving her various abilities as they travel.
The camerawork is ensorcelling with shots capturing new experiences, inviting the audience to feel overwhelmed with Navena as they step out into this new world for the first time together. In the dark depths of the forest, she is finally given long-sought freedom as she is allowed to explore nature and the world her mother tried to protect her from. Though, she soon learns that her liberator, the witch Maria, is not her savior.
“What did you think? Me? A mother to you?” the witch says, summarizing Navena’s new life is no less lonely than before. Klimoska lets her eyes do the work as she follows along. Even so, she remains determined to remain in the world of the living, among the villagers, all the while succumbing to the depths of her twisted new reality.
The film calls to mind characters like Edward Scissorhands and The Monster from The Bride of Frankenstein; it is about a girl who faces persecution in spite of not understanding what she has done wrong as a mortal raised among monsters. As Navena travels, Maria talks of naïve witches who will never be accepted by others.
This horror story stays true to the grimmest pieces of folklore. The story, at times, is told from the perspective of animals and I was fully invested in the journey even as the characters were played by different performers as the years went on. A little bit of fine-tuning could have been made, such as adjusting the visibility of darkly-lit scenes, but as it stands, it is still a respectable piece of filmmaking with good performances from the ever-changing cast. Writer-director Goran Stolevski navigates the grotesque and the tender beats with remarkable skill. Here’s a film for the outcasts and the wonders they can do.
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