Sunday, 16 October 2022

You Won't Be Alone

The Witches
Of Eat, Spit

You Won't Be Alone
United Kingdom/Serbia/Australia 2022
Directed by Goran Stolevski
Focus Features

Warning: Some slight spoilerage.

You Won’t Be Alone received it’s official UK premiere at this years London Film Festival. It’s a really nice slice of folk horror set in Macedonia in the 19th Century and it would have made a nice addition to Severin’s All The Haunts Be Ours box set, it has to be said. The film stars many great actresses such as Alice Englert (from Ginger And Rosa, reviewed here), Anamaria Marinca, Sara Klimoska with, due to the constantly shifting nature of identity in the story, some of them taking on dual roles, such as the absolutely marvellous Noomi Rapace, who puts in an extra special turn here... I’ll get to her in a minute.

The film tells of a witch living near a small farming community, who comes to claim a mother’s daughter on pretty much the day she is born. The mother strikes a bargain that she will only give her offspring up to live with the witch when she reaches 16 and the witch marks her, removing her power of speech. The mother tries to cheat the witch by hiding her daughter in a sacred cave, isolated from her community, for the next 16 years but, somewhat predictably, the witch still claims her prize and uses her last ‘witch spit’ to seal a wound she gives the girl, bestowing special witchy powers on her, also. However, her ‘apprentice’ angers her and she abandons her to life among the normal humans and watches from the wings, waiting to see how long it will take before the humans will rip her apart. And that’s all I’m telling you of the story... you’ll have to see how the pair of witches fair.

The film starts very strongly, in an unusual 1.44:1 aspect ratio, with a shot of a cat eating something in the foreground of a beautiful landscape, before we suddenly take the cats eye view for the camera as she rushes to a hovel where the new child is living... jumping back into a third person view. I was somewhat puzzled by this choice at first (and it’s not the only time the camera does this) but since the film is put together using occasional, still and static shots interspersed into sections with both fluid camerawork and almost brutal, in your face, hand held camera stuff... it doesn’t feel so out of place as to knock you out of the story. And it makes more sense when you realise it’s the form a witch is taking in certain scenes and used to indicate that in a visual manner without showing the witch transforming... a tactic used throughout the length of the movie although, in one shot where a witch transforms into a dog, it’s done in camera and looks amazing. It also reminded me of similar cat POV style shots used in another classic tale involving witches potions... Morgiana (reviewed here).

There’s a brilliant moment early in the film where you see just how the young girl with newly bestowed powers transforms, which is quite eerie and striking... pulling out the internal organs of someone (or something in the case of the animals) she has just killed, ripping a hole out of her torso and then shoving the organs into her own body to essentially turn into a doppelganger of that person. The film then proceeds to follow the girl as she takes on new identities throughout the movie... man, woman and animal... in order to silently hoodwink the humans around her and try to fit in. So the film becomes almost a ‘fish out of water’ comedy in some ways... but with no humour in it, just stripped back to the point where the lack of fitting in is seen as some kind of unhinged mental condition on occasion.

Which brings me to the wonderful Noomi Rapace who, in the role of a young mother killed and replaced by the girl, tries to fit in with the community in such ways that actually give the film a sense of lurking dread and strangeness. There’s one sequence in particular where she’s imitating the women-folk of the community by laughing joyously on cue and then dropping back to a straight, emotionless face before attempting it again a number of times, which really makes the blood grow cold.

All this plus the poetic voice over narrative of the young witch, combined with some heavy and unhurried musical statements with long pauses between lines, makes for a really nice combination and singles You Won’t Be Alone out as one of the more interesting and rewarding examples of folk horror cinema for a while. It’s a slow burn of a feature with some amazing, stand out moments which punctuate the pacing and it kind of gets under your skin as you watch. Definitely a strong recommendation from me and I’d urge fans of unusual cinema to check this one out as soon as the opportunity arises.

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