A new indie folk-horror triumph is imbued by a refreshing sense of the natural world.
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You Won't Be Alone (2022 movie)

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It's either the loveliest movie about witches you've ever seen or the goriest one Terrence Malick never made, but either way, You Won't Be Alone, as unclassifiable as it is, will take up haunted residence in your head. The horror door works just fine, so use it: One day in woodsy 19th-century Macedonia, presumably a day like any other, a squalling infant and her mother are visited by a head-to-toe-scarred woman with an eerie smile. She's the "Wolf-Eateress" or Old Maid Maria — in any event, she's come to take the baby. Their showdown kicks things off in a tense direction: The mother pleads, and the witch leaves with a promise to return years later, scratching out the child's tongue as part of the bad bargain.

Only ten minutes in, inspired Australian writer-director Goran Stolevski is using his feature debut to rewrite the rules, finding fresh ways into ancient folklore. You can burn witches at the stake, but wrinkly hags like Old Maria will roam the earth regardless, dragging around their desiccated husks until new blood can be found. She does return, by the way — just like she said she would. It's 16 years later, and even though mother and child are hiding in a cave, that's not a problem for a witch who can become a crow. Or anything at all: You Won't Be Alone stuns us yet again as the witch enters the body of the mother and turns the teenage girl (Sara Klimoska, a dependable source of wonderstruck naivete) into a witch herself, her newfound long black fingernails going a long way, production-value-wise.

Sundance Film Festival Preview
Noomi Rapace in 'You Won't Be Alone'
| Credit: Sundance Institute

There are precedents for this kind of spookfest, rife with rural ritual and evil walking hand in hand with the living: Robert Eggers' fable-like The Witch or the 1965 Ukrainian stunner Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors. Cosmic at heart and making transformation its central idea, You Won't Be Alone is suddenly a movie about seeing through the eyes of others. There's an abused wife (Noomi Rapace) who benefits enormously from a body swap; later on, the witch becomes a man, a dog, a happy bride. The years pass, and, you suspect, a kind of wisdom is accrued. Or at least the sex gets better. Always there is suffering.

Ironically enough for a horror movie elevated by Malickian grace, Stolevski sometimes overindulges in prettiness, just like the master himself. There's no twirling in fields but plenty of sun-dappled pastoral bliss, and it may be time to finally retire composer Arvo Pärt's plaintive "Spiegel im Spiegel" when you're looking for instant pathos. Yet the movie also gets deeper and more emotional as it goes, becoming a metaphor for restless empathy and non-binary points of view. You Won't Be Alone is a fitting title, bearing the ominous warning of a juicy thriller, but also a subtle sense of compassion. It's a big world and you won't be alone, if you let the witches in. Grade: A-

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You Won't Be Alone (2022 movie)
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