Director/Screenplay – Goran Stolevski, Producers – Kristina Ceyton & Samantha Jennings, Photography – Matthew Cuang, Music – Mark Bradshaw, Visual Effects Supervisor – Marty Pepper, Special Effects Supervisor – Zamal M’Barek, Prosthetic Designer – Larry Van Duynhoven, Production Design – Bethany Ryan. Production Company – Causeway Films/Balkanic Media.
Sara Klimoska (Nevena), Anamaria Marinca (Maria), Alice Englert (Biliana), Noomi Rapace (Bosilka), Carloto Cota (Boris), Kamka Tocinovski (Yoana), Felix Maritaud (Yovan)
A mother Yoana is shocked to find the legendary witch Maria, known as The Wolf Eateress, come to claim the life of her infant daughter Nevena. Yoana makes a deal with Maria to spare Nevena until her sixteenth birthday, although the witch takes Nevena’s voice as price. Yoana tries to hide Nevena in a cave to protect her. The witch comes nevertheless, stealing the mother’s body. The witch takes Nevena away with her, showing how to live by drinking the blood of animals. After they argue, Nevena uses the ability she has seen the witch use – that of stealing the body of another by placing the person’s entrails inside her chest. After accidentally killing the young mother Bosilka, Nevana takes her entrails and assumes her form. As Nevana tries to adjust to Bosilka’s body, everyone thinks that Bosilka has become half-witted after being beaten too much by her husband. Nevena goes on to take the body of a local man Boris, before abandoning it when she finds a young child Biliana fallen. She takes Biliana’s body, growing into womanhood, finding love and becoming a mother. Always though, the witch Maria lurks with her taunts.
You Won’t Be Alone was the first feature film from Goran Stolevski, a director from Macedonia who lives in Australia. A few months after this, Stolevski also made the non-genre Of an Age (2022). Stolevski shoots the entire film in rural Macedonia and in the Macedonian language. The surprise is that for what is essentially very much a foreign-language film, Stolevski brings in some well-known international faces, including Noomi Rapace (who also executive produces the film), Jane Campion’s daughter Alice Englert, who has been a rising name in recent years, and Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca. (That said, both Noomi and Alice get to cheat in that they are playing mute characters so don’t have to learn the language for the film).
You Won’t Be Alone is a work of Folk Horror in that it draws on the rural traditions and folklore of Macedonia. It sits in the same niche as other woks that draw from East European folklore such as Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964) and November (2017). Goran Stolevski researched these and brought them together. The results are quite extraordinary. Not the least is the story he creates that travels through the three different lives that Nevena inhabits. It is one of the most unique characters arcs that one has ever seen in a film – where Nevena goes from a mute teenager to a seemingly mentally handicapped woman as she tries to fit in, to trying out a man’s body and then taking on a child’s body and living through to adulthood and becoming a mother in it.
As a director, Goran Stolevski seems very much influenced by Terrence Malick. We get the voiceover from Sara Klimoska’s Nevena, which is all whispered fragments of often extraordinary poetry. Stolevski mimics Malick’s improvisational chiaroscuro freestyle with montages of children at play and farmers in the field, while shooting with an exquisite cinematographic eye for the natural landscape. These are interspersed with often raw and shocking images of the witch tearing out entrails or sucking the blood out of slaughtered animals.
There have been a number of standout films on Bodyswap themes in recent years with the likes of Every Day (2018), Lifechanger (2018) and Possessor (2020). You Won’t Be Alone offers a unique interpretation of Shapeshifting as we see the witch placing entrails into her chest to take the body of another person. The film is at its most fascinating when it gets to the various bodyhopping aspects and we see Nevena inhabiting other bodies. Noomi Rapace gives a fine performance as someone who seems to be experiencing a human body and learning to fit into everyday life for the very first time. Equally so, the scenes where we see through Stolevski’s lyrical poetry how Nevena comes to marvel at the strength and physicality of a male body and to then discover love and eventually have her own child in Alice Englert’s body, brings the story in a very nice full circle. Similarly, Anamaria Marinca, her body hidden head to toe in burn scars, all except for the flashback scenes, gives a wonderfully nasty and taunting performance as the witch.