They’re selling You Won’t Be Alone as a horror film. It really isn’t, even though its main character eats animals’ and people’s entrails. (In that respect, it’s kin to the big movie that’s out this week, Morbius.) Instead, it’s an existential meditation on what it means to be human, seen through the eyes of a character who isn’t. Then again, pretending that this is horror is one way to get Americans to see a movie from the mountainous, sun-baked Balkan country of North Macedonia. The country is having a bit of a moment, with their soccer team having knocked Italy out of the World Cup. Cinematically, North Macedonia is known for the Oscar-nominated documentary Honeyland and Milčo Mančevski’s similarly honored drama Before the Rain from the 1990s. This is something else, and if you have a taste for the philosophical, it’s worth a pop as it opens this weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse in Denton.
The tale begins in the 19th century in a rural village, where a mother (Kamka Točinovski) hears that her newborn baby girl has suddenly stopped crying. She turns around, and in her house is Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca), a wizened, balding crone who wants the baby, named Nevena. The mother begs Maria not to take her child and promises to give Nevena to her when she’s 16, a promise that she has no intention of keeping. She keeps the baby in a sacred cave where Maria supposedly can’t enter. The charm doesn’t work, and Maria turns the now-teenage, practically feral Nevena (Sara Klimoska) into a wolf-eateress like herself, using her long, black fingernails to cheat death by disemboweling dogs, cats, wolves, and people.
The monster speaks in fractured syntax, rendered into clumsy English subtitles: “The sky the leaves it swallowed,” Nevena recalls. “Me the skin they bury, but me the witch they can’t.” Nevena kills and then takes the form of an abused mother (Noomi Rapace), a handsome young bachelor (Carloto Cotta), and a dying little girl (Anastasija Karanovich), whom she impersonates long enough to grow into a woman (Alice Englert). Through it all, the original Nevena continues to narrate her thoughts from the point of view of these characters, which is how this Macedonian-language film accommodates its non-Macedonian-speaking actors. Through it all, Old Maid Maria occasionally appears to her, taunting her about the futility of her human life.
This is the first movie by veteran filmmaker Goran Stolevski to reach our theaters, and he takes his time, which is in keeping with the story’s antique setting. The score by Mark Bradshaw generates an effectively alien atmosphere, and the best thing is the photography by Matthew Chuang, the Australian who co-photographed last year’s Blue Bayou. He really likes the shadows cast by the mountains during sunrises and sunsets on this village of crude stone houses, all of which have a string of red chiles drying over the oven. This is a beautiful film to look at, especially when you consider how many shots of intestines it has. Amid all the more recognizable names in the cast, Klimoska gives a memorable performance as the creature who decides she’d rather be a human.
I don’t find the story’s intellectual element comes together that successfully. If you’re looking for a film where a supernatural being takes in the wonder and majesty of human life, this isn’t in the same league as Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, or even the movie that’s coming out next week. Still, You Won’t Be Alone is a movie from a corner of the world that we don’t see often on our screens, and it’s interesting enough to tell your friends about, just as I’m telling you.
You Won’t Be Alone
Starring Noomi Rapace and Alice Englert. Written and directed by Goran Stolevski. Rated R.