'You Won't Be Alone' review: A beautiful and bloody horror tale

A shape-shifting witch visits the Macedonian countryside in this lyrical horror film from first-time feature director Goran Stolevski.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Part gothic folk tale and part lyrical meditation on the beauty of nature, "You Won't Be Alone" is like "The Witch" by way of Terrence Malick.

This horror tale is set in the 19th century Macedonian countryside and concerns a witch, known as the Wolf-Eateress, who takes different forms — man, woman, animal — throughout the course of the film. It's bloody and eerie enough to please any fans of Clive Barker's work. But writer-director Goran Stolevski, in his feature film debut, casts quite a hypnotic spell through his use of poetic visuals and his meditative approach to storytelling. It's horror elevated to premium arthouse levels. 

Noomi Rapace in "You Won't Be Alone."

Life in 19th century Macedonia is tough as it is, but let's just say it gets decidedly worse when the Wolf Eateress, who is also known as Old Maid Maria, comes around. One day Maria, whose badly scarred face makes her look like Freddy Krueger's older sister, decides she wants a child, so she makes a play to snatch a newborn from her mother. Not so fast pleads the mother, who bargains with the witch: let me raise her until she's 16, and then she's yours. Fair enough, reasons Maria, who then takes the child's tongue as part of the deal. 

No one said she played fair, and at the end of the day she is a witch, after all. And since she's a witch and since Stolevski is working with an open playbook, she can take on any form she wishes.

And when that child's 16 birthday comes around, you best bet Maria comes-a-calling. 

We spend some time with several beings possessed by the witch's spirit — there's a ritual tied to each new transfer, which involves a bit of branding and a bloody spit — and Stolevski is never far from a tree or a stream or some plant life that he lets his camera fix upon in wonderment. "You Won't Be Alone" becomes about more than the possessions, but rather the act of becoming someone else and learning the world anew. That sense of discovery is also felt in the filmmaker, who graduates here from shorts to features with surprising grace and poise. After this promising debut, it will be fascinating to see what form he takes next. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'You Won't Be Alone'

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for violence and gore, sexual content, graphic nudity, and sexual assault

Running time: 108 minutes

In theaters