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Hidden Horrors of Peacock: The Gorgeous 2022 Folk Horror Film, You Won't Be Alone
This month, we're taking a look at You Won't Be Alone, a stunning folk-horror film more people should have seen.
Welcome to Hidden Horrors of Peacock, a monthly column spotlighting off-the-beaten-path scary movies available to watch right now on NBCUniversal's streaming service. From cult classics to forgotten sequels to indie gems you've maybe never heard of, we've got you covered.
This month, we're spotlighting a recent folk horror film that more people need to see: You Won't Be Alone.
I love folk horror, for a lot of reasons. On an aesthetic level, the right filmmaker can make a folk horror movie absolutely beautiful, from the dim woods of Robert Eggers' The Witch to the brightness of Summerisle in Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man. But beyond that, there's a certain cerebral impact to these films that other subgenres of horror are often missing, something that scratches a particular itch in my brain. All those creepy rituals and clashes between the old ways of doing things and the new? They're steeped in the idea that there's some secret knowledge in the world that you're missing, and if you get close enough, you might find out why.
Few horror films in recent memory have explored this quite as poignantly as You Won't Be Alone, the 2022 feature debut of director Goran Stolevski, who also wrote the screenplay. Steeped in pastoral beauty and an almost fairy tale-like sense of wonder, it's a sneaky, slow-burn horror film that's as moving as it is haunting, one of those films that'll leave you thinking about its many layers for hours on end.
At its core, the film is the story of a wandering witch named Maria (Anamaria Marinca) and an isolated woman named Nevena (Sara Klimoska), who was promised to the witch as a baby. When she's grown, Nevena is converted to witchhood (they're called "wolf-eateress" in the film, which is wonderfully evocative) by Maria, then left to figure out certain aspects of what that means by herself, sometimes with Maria's instruction, sometimes through her own skewed, sheltered view of the world. Being a witch in this world is complex, after all, and people are not necessarily receptive to your gifts.
But what makes You Won't Be Alone particularly complex and rewarding is the way Stolevski lays out his particular version of witches as shapeshifters, capable of taking on the form of other people, walking around in their skin, and essentially living another life. Over the course of the film, Nevena lives many different lives, switching ages and even genders and, in the process, saying some powerful things about identity, how it forms, and how we come to be at peace with who we are. The horror, which is at once atmospheric and punctuated by sudden bursts of visceral intensity, often comes from Nevena simply realizing that the world is cruel, no matter who she is, and that her salvation lies in seeking happiness wherever she can find it, on her own terms.
Stolevski unfolds this story across acres of beautiful Eastern European location shooting, showing us everything from hillside meadows to deep, dark forests and dank caves that hold untold wonders. The beauty of the natural world surrounds Nevena's strange existence, infusing the film with a sense that there's hope for her, even when things get especially dark and the brutal conditions of living in this version of the world are made clear. The film is beautiful to the eye, of course, but that beauty also invites you to question it, to look not just for the ugly things lurking in this existence, but for the secrets. Over the course of its runtime, You Won't Be Alone becomes a sweeping, epic story that's all about a hidden life that's unfolding amid a seemingly simple, pastoral lifestyle. It's the kind of film that reminds you that there are wonders –– terrifying, beautiful, and shocking wonders –– right under your nose, and that you can even reach out and touch them... if they don't tear your hand off first.