Noomi Rapace stars as "Bosilka" in director Goran Stolevski's 'You Won't Be Alone', a Focus Features release. (Image: Branko Starcevic / Focus Features)

Macedonian-Australian director Goran Stolevski drew comparisons with filmmakers like Terrence Malick and Jonathan Glazer after his feature debut You Won’t Be Alone premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on the weekend.

Shown as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, the supernatural horror follows a young witch in 19th century Macedonia, who is left to go feral in the woods.

Curious about life as a human, she accidentally kills a peasant, then takes her shape to see what life is like in her skin. This ignites her deep-seated curiosity to experience life inside the bodies of others.

The film was produced by Causeway Films’ Kristina Ceyton and Samantha Jennings and stars Noomi Rapace, Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert, Carloto Cotta, Félix Maritaud and Sara Klimoska.

Balkanic Media’s Jonathan English is co-producer, with Rapace, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Stephen Kelliher, Michelle Pearce, Dale Roberts, Jonathan Page, and Bryce Menzies executive producers. Universal Pictures is the ANZ distributor, while Focus Features is readying a US theatrical release post the festival.

In his review for Deadline, Todd McCarthy noted the film went “far beyond the normal boundaries of generic blood-sucker yarns to bring historical, ethnic, and cultural considerations to a table over-spilling with goodies both familiar and esoteric”.

“At first it’s not at all clear where the film is going with its unappetizing basic ingredients of baby-snatching, blood-sucking, and 19th century rural miserablism,” he wrote.

“But once it becomes clear that the filmmaker has things on his mind other than just gore and weirdness, a very different manner of vampire tale alluringly asserts itself.”

He also singled out cinematographer Matthew Chuang for a camera style that owed “its existence to Malick and his various cinematographers of the past couple of decades”.

“Matthew Chuang’s camera is constantly in motion, floating, darting, swirling, dashing inward and out, up and down, moving with the actors and sweeping everything along in a whirlwind of activity and almost always beautiful synch with where the actors are and where they’re headed next,” he wrote.

Writing for Variety, Peter Debruge also found hints of Malick in the project, which he said felt like “if A24 commissioned an art-house horror movie from The Tree of Life director” and had an “artistically out-there quality adventurous moviegoers associate with The Green Knight and Lamb“.

“Instead of a straightforward narrative, Stolevski delivers an evocative tapestry of natural-world wonder — sensory fragments stitched together by a half-murmured interior monologue and what sounds like medieval church music,” he wrote.

For The Guardian‘s Benjamin Lee, who gave the film five stars, there may be “vague shades” of Glazer’s Under the Skin and, the work of Malick, but Stolevski’s film is “confidently of his own creation”.

“Most of the dialogue is Macedonian narration, the fractured speech of someone figuring out how to be, in awe of nature while weighed down by a mounting disappointment in humanity, in how women are manhandled and sexualised, a stranger able to look at how unjust such an accepted and normalised patriarchy might then seem,” he wrote.

“It’s a deft and thrilling conceit, experiencing the highs and lows of life through different people.”

In his review, The Hollywood Reporter‘s John Defore made special mention of the central character’s journey towards humanity, which he said Stolevski portrayed with “sensitivity and increasing investment”.

“While an uncharitable viewer might find things to mock in the strangeness of the first half-hour, few will have that impulse beyond that point; and one hesitates to suggest different ways the writer/director might have brought us to the point at which one incarnation of the young witch (Alice Englert) seems at the threshold of happiness,” he said.

Sundance Film Festival runs from January 20-30.

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