You Won’t Be Alone: Stories We Tell, by David Bax
It’s immediately apparent that You Won’t Be Alone, Goran Stovelski’s feature debut, is going to follow its own logic, not just narratively but visually. We open on a close-up of a stray cat in a field. The aspect ratio is an uncommon 1.44:1 (usually associated with IMAX films). The cat exits the frame and, with the next cut, we are seeing from its point of view, slinking and darting through the grass, into a tiny, 18th century Eastern European hamlet and finally coming to rest inside the hut of a woman preparing to feed her newborn baby.
Best not to spoil too much. And easy not to, as well; You Won’t Be Alone is not a movie defined chiefly by its plot points. But I will reveal that it’s the newborn who’s the film’s main character and what occurs in the scene to follow will render her mute. That’s why most of the dialogue spoken in the movie is her inner monologue, which is whispered, yet loud. You can feel the actress’ breath on the microphone, hear the syllables clip and flatten out at the top of the recording range. It’s like NPR voice turned up to eleven. Like the cat’s-eye-view shot from the beginning, it’s disorienting by design yet undeniably compelling.
Most of the things she says are half-complete thoughts, rendered in fractured syntax. Like everything about You Won’t Be Alone, the narration often feels like stream of consciousness prose. But one phrase in particular does leap out, fully formed: “My life is like a river.” A lucid thought that ironically sums up an otherwise illusory movie.
You’ll notice I haven’t named the protagonist yet. It would be too confusing to even try, as they flow through a number of different identities over the course of the film. That supernatural ability comes, I am delighted to tell you, from the fact that You Won’t Be Alone belongs to one of the richest and most rewarding classifications of cinema, movies about witches.
Witches occupy a dynamic and frictional space in the ongoing tradition of human legends, at once representing misogynistic fears about the, for too many men, unknowable minds, desires, ambitions and capabilities of women while also embodying feminist ideas of female power expanding upon rejection of the patriarchal status quo. Stovelski is aware of that push and pull, crafting a narrative that is empowering while also lamenting the narrow place humanity has built for women.
Tales of witches and other dark wonders are passed down through oral tradition in You Won’t Be Alone, from mothers to their young children. The film may be set hundreds of years after the invention of the printing press but one gets the impression literacy hasn’t fully arrived in this part of the world. But stories, in any medium, have always helped us to understand more about the world, to see it from another angle, to make sense of it when we can and to find a place for our terror when we can’t. You Won’t Be Alone falls mostly into that last category but there’s something comforting about it, bloody claws and all.