“It’s a burning, hurting thing, this world. And yet…”
…The magical thing about film is in the way it connects us so intimately with people from all walks of life. For just a little bit, we get to walk in their skin. See what they see. Hear what they hear. The good and the bad, we take in all of it. With You Won’t Be Alone, writer/director Goran Stolevski delivers a witchy tale that explores the above in a literal sense for a moving experience that is unlike anything else you’ll see all year.
You Won’t Be Alone is set in the 19th century and follows young witch Biliana (Alice Englert). After being marked as a baby by a legendary witch known as Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca), she is kept in a sacred place by her mother to protect her from the witch’s return. Her years of isolation turn out to be for naught though, as Maria eventually finds Biliana and releases her out into the world, intent on teaching her the ways of their craft. But Biliana soon escapes the witch’s abusive hand and seeks a life of her own, where she uses her powers to walk in the skin of others and learn what living is really all about.
When I say You Won’t Be Alone is unlike anything else you’ll see this year, that’s not an exaggeration. Stolevski’s feature debut is pure, filmic poetry. Around ninety percent of words spoken in the film are Biliana’s internal monologue. That may sound “boring” to some—it certainly isn’t for anyone seeking loads of thrills and chills—but the experience is one that is simply hypnotic. Her tongue ripped out by Maria as a baby, Biliana cannot speak, and when we first meet her as a teenager, she appears as a dirty, primal animal. Living isolated in a cave your whole life will do that to you. But inside Biliana is a beautiful soul with a poet’s heart. Through her mind, she speaks to us with a thoughtful grace as she takes in the world around her, allowing the audience to get as close to her as possible. We share every ounce of Biliana's wonder…and pain.
Stolevski’s script is one that aches with a powerful yearning. Watching You Won’t Be Alone is like being taken back to being a curious child again. Through Biliana’s eyes, we encounter all of the marvels--and horrors--of life. Plot is minimal in this story. Stolevski’s film is more a spiritual journey experienced through the lens of both men and women as Biliana lives in the skin of each, as children, as adults, through social gatherings, and sex. Outside of the darker moments, there is a calm to You Won’t Be Alone akin to floating down a serene river. Observing Biliana’s silent attempts to fit in are a joy, in particular a scene which has her in the skin of a character played by the always wonderful Noomi Rapace, attempting to smile and laugh with comically horrific results. The heart in this film beats with a strength that you can feel reverberate in your bones.
But, like life, You Won’t Be Alone isn’t all beauty. It contains more than its fair share of death and terror.
The “Witch-Mama” which stalks Biliana throughout her adventure is a frightening, vicious creature—done up with an unnerving full-body makeup of burnt, ravaged flesh—that embodies the cruelty of living. She wears the scars of the world on the outside, and delivers that pain upon Biliana two-fold...a pain which Biliana is not opposed to delivering unto others as well. You Won’t Be Alone is every bit as cruel as it is moving. That’s living. That’s life. Death, brutality, sadness…they all lurk around every corner. There is very little “magic” in this tale of witches. Instead, Stolevski keeps things grounded with an earthy witchcraft steeped in the ugliness of nature. From their blood-drinking of animal carcasses to the gruesome way in which they transform into others, You Won’t Be Alone delivers a variety of stomach-churning moments that claw at your insides.
At its core, You Won’t Be Alone is a unique coming of age film dealing with the generational trauma of women, depicted through Biliana and a variety of found “mothers” which she learns from. “What do you think me, a mother? A fool?...You’re nothing to me,” claims Maria, which says it all. Life as a woman is hard. Stolevski delivers a meditative observation of the pain and abuse which women experience at the hands of men, lending that sympathy to Maria as well, with one of Biliana’s “teachings” being that “when the man is in the room, the mouth, it should never open”. Devastating only begins to describe such a revelation. You Won’t Be Alone cuts open the soul of women to expose the deep-rooted scars underneath that pass through generation after generation. Perhaps Maria is as cruel as she is to prepare Biliana for the world. Perhaps she’s mean as a result of her own abuse at the hands of men. Whatever the reason, Stolevski’s film digs deep into all of that in a way that resonates throughout and allows for understanding for even the most vicious of characters.
You Won’t Be Alone casts a mesmerizing spell that is well-paced and never dull despite a hollow plot. Stolevski brings the audience into a dreamy world that turns nightmarish at times, but is otherwise a thought-provoking meditation on life, who we are and what we can be. It won’t satisfy those expecting a more traditional horror tale, but if you’re willing to let go and live in the skin of someone else for a while, You Won’t Be Alone is a rewarding watch.
You Won't Be Alone comes to theaters April 1st from Focus Features.
By Matt Konopka