Review by Sean Boelman
There has been a trend in recent years of folk horror that is more based in atmosphere and character than traditional scares. And while the Macedonian-language film You Won’t Be Alone does feel like a blatant attempt to capitalize on the popularity of other movies, there are enough well-done elements in it to make it worth recommending.
The film follows a young girl who is kidnapped in rural Macedonia and transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit. A very compelling opening sequence will hook viewers in with the promise of a horror-tinged fable, but it soon becomes clear that there isn’t much of a plot to be found here at all, and so the movie’s success is entirely dependent on whether the viewer vibes with its strange wavelength.
Honestly, the film moves along at a glacially slow pace. So much so, in fact, that the first hour ends up feeling absolutely excruciating. There is a certain point at which things in the movie click in terms of the narrative, and from that point on, it becomes much more pleasant, but by that time, a majority of viewers will unfortunately have already checked out.
The film does some really interesting things in exploring its theme of humanity. The movie is all about the protagonist experiencing life through the perspective of several different individuals, and while the viewer will get the message by about the second or third permutation, the observations it makes throughout are good.
That said, the film could have done a much better job of developing its characters. The first hour of the movie being so thin on dialogue (and empty poetry when there was dialogue) really prevents the audience from connecting with it early on. And by the second and third acts, there’s so little time that it feels like we are rushing through the other stories.
The acting in the film definitely has some highlights, but there is not enough substance here for any of the performances to really shine. Noomi Rapace probably gives the most memorable performance of the bunch, even if it is only because her section of the movie is the most emotionally impactful.
There is no doubt that the film is gorgeous to look at throughout, but this is definitely a case of a movie where the filmmaker seemed to think that mildly creepy visuals were enough. It’s not scary whatsoever, with no real feeling of dread apart from a few scenes here and there that are especially gory.
You Won’t Be Alone really struggles out of the gate, but the last half of the film is almost intriguing enough to redeem what came before. It will definitely have its share of fans, although it seems more likely to aggravate most viewers.
You Won’t Be Alone screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, which ran January 20-30.