In 19th-century Macedonia, a young girl (Sara Klimoska) is taken from a sheltered life of solitude and transformed into a shapeshifting witch by the ancient spirit Maria, the Wolf-Eateress (Anamaria Marinca). As the mute girl explores the world above ground for the first time, she grows curious about life as a human and discovers her ability to kill and take her victim’s shape. Throughout the story, she experiences life through several bodies, learning about love, loss, beauty and pain. All the while, however, the Wolf-Eateress is jealously watching, and her anger may tear the girl’s world apart once more.

Outtake got the opportunity to speak with writer-director Goran Stolevski about You Won’t Be Alone ahead of its premiere at the London Film Festival.

Courtesy of Focus Features

Could you tell us about your inspiration for the screenplay?

Goran Stolevski: It’s actually poignant, because I used to live in Bristol for two years between 2015 and 2017, and I was there because my husband was working at the university. And I was an unemployed filmmaker, – or trophy wife, is probably how I used to phrase it, but the lowest-budget trophy wife imaginable. But still, it meant that the London Film Festival was one I used to come up for! And I couldn’t stay in London, so I would take the Megabus every morning to get here, and then the Megabus back at midnight to Bristol.

But I got to see a lot of films because I was on an industry pass – even with nothing to my name, I called myself a filmmaker. I was watching all these movies that took on genre premises but didn’t follow conventions. The main one I always think of is The Assassin by Hsiao-Hsien; technically, it’s a martial arts movie, but it’s really a Hsiao-Hsien movie that occasionally breaks out into martial arts [laughs].

I normally tend towards relationship dramas, but I wanted to do something that had a genre premise. I wanted to take the premise and treat it as a normal story – it’s the thoughts and feelings that interest me, more than the genre convention. I don’t know why I went with horror instinctively, but I think it’s because it can still be very earthy and about the world here.

Then having witches was almost automatic! There are two things I mainly write – I used to say this as a joke, but it’s really a fact – the two things I specialise in are stubborn women and gay sex, in life as in art.

Courtesy of Focus Features

And with You Won’t Be Alone and now Of an Age, you cover both!

Goran Stolevski: And the third film has both! But having witches was automatic, and I wanted it to be witchcraft seen in a very mundane, grounded way. I looked into folktales from the region to see if there might be an interesting premise, but there wasn’t anything that was very inspiring for me. It was during the historical research portion that I came across the fact that women accused of witchcraft in Eastern Europe were often accused of taking the shape of another human being or animal. I just thought, that’s the magical element I need. What an amazing way to look at life, to be living outside of time and inside humanity.

And yeah, I wanted to find someone with an emotional blank slate to look at the world as this strange thing. And every frame, every interaction is dictated by [Nevena’s] feelings at that moment. Her voice came to me very early on before I even knew the full story. That’s what’s most important to me: her flow of feeling and the way that her consciousness evolves.

Courtesy of Focus Features

It’s interesting that her inner monologue doesn’t really abide by standard speech patterns. What did the process of finding her voice involve?

Goran Stolevski: It was tricky. Some of it came to me in English and some of it in Macedonian. It was like, how do we capture the inner dialogue across languages so that it’s sufficiently legible and feels authentic? I also wanted to shape the words in the same way her reality is shaped. You know, children who are raised away from society, if they’re found after the age of 13 then they won’t be able to develop speech. That’s fascinating to me.

So Nevena, she’s been exposed to a little bit of speech along the way, but I don’t think it’s enough to teach her how to speak and think in an ‘ordinary’ way. The syntax needed to reflect that, and the voice she uses shifts gradually across time to reflect what’s changing inside her mind. I wanted to be simple with words and with sentence structure, but still, evoke something different and profound.

Courtesy of Focus Features

Language is obviously a huge part of this film – why was it so important to you to have it entirely in the Macedonian dialect?

Goran Stolevski: To me, this village is a stand-in for pretty much all of Eastern Europe and a way of life that has shaped thousands of years across the world. But once I decide to set it somewhere, it’s very important to me that it’s as detailed and true-to-life as possible. I think that to be universal, you have to be very specific, and I think you have to honour the space you’re in.

You Won’t Be Alone is available on digital platforms to rent and own from October 20th.