A simple pastoral life of subsistence farming and poverty is not much, but it is what the villagers endure and even enjoy, a small community nestled in the valleys of Macedonia in the nineteenth century where tales are told around the supper table of witches, of the “Wolf-Eateress” Maria and her tragic life and marriage to a dying man who infected her, how she tried to heal herself and was burned for it which completed the cycle of her transformation which began again as she sought a child to turn as she had once been turned.
Written and directed by Goran Stolevski, You Won’t Be Alone is both a promise and a threat, the child Nevena taken as a baby and from the age of sixteen raised in the forest by Maria, now an adult trying to find her way back to the human world, seeking companionship, a husband, a family and the promise of all that brings, but also haunted by witch who is never far, taunting Nevena, waiting for her to fail in her attempts to be accepted, to be revealed as a monster.
Nevena’s true mother a creature of fright, of animal instinct who screamed at the night and tried to protect her daughter by hiding her in a sacred place in the caves beneath the mountains, she could not match the power of Old Maid Maria (The Girl with All the Gifts‘ Anamaria Marinca), the scars of her burned skin a reminder that she cannot ever be other than what she is, a witch and an outcast.
Raised in the darkness of the caves, the brightness of the world outside as shocking as the open space and the sun through the trees, like Maria, who transforms herself by stuffing her skin with the entrails of those she kills with ease, dressed in the skins of corpses Nevena first becomes a girl who plays with the other children, then a simple woman, a man who works the fields, bathing in sunshine, then finally a wife and mother.
Taking new faces to pass unseen even by those who knew those she replaces, played by Sara Klimoska, Lamb‘s Noomi Rapace, Carloto Cotta and Beautiful Creatures‘ Alice Englert, each life explores a different facet of what it is to be human, how differently each is treated by the other inhabitants of the village, through obligation and abuse, the price for each moment of happiness high but none greater than bargaining with a witch, a cost which must always be paid in blood when it comes due.
The villagers untainted by industry or the concerns of the world beyond the horizon, You Won’t Be Alone is as much a study of a traditional way of the rural life of as it is an evocation of the essence of folk horror, the outsider of Under the Skin masquerading as the mute of The Piano, the seed of The Flower of Evil grown under the meditative shade of Tree of Life, like Maria’s persistent watchfulness a slow burn but lingering in the mind like the permeating smell of wood smoke.
Having screened at the London Film Festival, You Won’t Be Alone will be available on digital download from Thursday 20th October