If Terrence Malick made a horror movie, it would look a lot like You Won’t Be Alone. But Alone wasn’t directed by a grizzled veteran with decades of films under his belt. It was made by Goran Stolevski, an Australian filmmaker in his 30’s making his feature-length writing and directing debut.
Stolevski’s tale is dark and strange. Set in 19th century Macedonia, Alone opens on a deal with the devil. A witch visits the mother of an infant girl to kill the baby, but the mother asks to keep her until age 16; a promise she instantly regrets and tries to protect her daughter from by hiding her in a sacred cave. But the witch comes calling at the agreed upon time and takes the teenager, Novena, as her own. She imbues Novena with the power to take the form of any person or animal that she kills. This newfound power gives Novena the opportunity to try out multiple personas, as she eventually takes the form of a woman, a man, a child, and a dog.
With each new skin that Novena tries on, she gains a new perspective on life which becomes the beating heart of Alone’s beauty and power. The movie conjures the feeling of Malick’s masterpiece The Tree of Life in its ability to tap into the poetry of life’s hidden treasures. Novena revels in the simple joys of biting into an apple, the warmth of sunlight on her skin, and the intimacy of sex. Having grown up in a secluded cave her entire life, the world for Novena is filled to the brim with beauty and magic.
The cynical witch who kidnapped Novena doesn’t understand this magic, despite her powers. She constantly scolds and thwarts Novena for trying to fit into the human world instead of embracing who she really is. Novena feels the oppressive evil of her “witch-mama,” along with the evil imbedded in her brutal society where women are abused by patriarchal men and children are slaughtered by wild animals. The contrast between life’s beauty and darkness rings out powerfully in Novena’s voiceover. She often comments on how difficult life is, but always follows the thought up with the same phrase: “And yet..”
Even in a world without witches, life is hard. Like Novena, we have no control over what reality we’re born into and what deals with the devil have been made before us that affect the rest of our lives. But also like Novena, we still have choices to make. We can choose love instead of hate, goodness instead of evil, and the peace of the present moment instead of the chaos of the past or the future. The world is broken and so are we. And yet…
Alone falls just short of perfection. The ending feels incomplete, and Stolevski struggles at times to find the right balance between beauty and the macabre. But as feature-length debuts go, it’s extraordinary. Stolevski already has a masterful eye behind the lens. The cinematography is stunning, the writing is insightful, and there are scenes here that are nothing short of transcendent. This is a filmmaker overflowing with talent, and he’s just getting started.