Greetings again from the darkness. Perhaps you are a normal movie lover and have never wondered what it might be like if director Terrence Malick delved into the horror genre. Well, the first feature film from writer-director Goran Stolevski gives every indication that he has spent entirely too much time with such thoughts. This arthouse folk horror film will likely frustrate many with its unconventional approach, odd narrative, and spiritual narration that hardly contributes to the characters in the story.
Opening in a remote mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, we witness a ‘Wolf-eatress” witch named ‘Old Maid Maria’ (Anamarie Marinca; 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, 2007) visiting a mother (Kamka Tocinovski) and her newborn baby. It turns out Maria has a taste for newborn blood, but the mother negotiates a deal which would allow her to raise her daughter Nevena until Maria takes her in teen years. The child is then hidden away in a cave, isolated for years and mostly feral when Maria returns. Teenage Nevena (Sara Klimoska) knows nothing of the outside world and sets out on her journey of life lessons, guided by Maria, a witch who may or may not have her best interests at heart.
Shape-shifting, or assuming the form of their victims is a trait that Maria passes along to her protégé. This process is quick and brutal, and we see it played out along the way as Nevena takes over a local mother (Noomi Rapace), so as to get a taste of normalcy, a wolf (just because?), a man (Carlota Cota) so as to absorb power and experience sex, and a young woman (Alice Englert) in order to give birth to a child. This shape-shifting is referred in the movie as “dressed in corpse”, which is a spot-on description. The Wolf-eatress follows closely, but does give her new daughter the space to explore humans, though Maria does not share the appeal.
There are some excellent scenes in the film, but it leaves the impression of trying too hard to come across as Malick doing horror. Still, with some similarities to Robert Eggers’ horror gem, THE WITCH (2015), there is enough atmosphere of terror to keep us engaged and working through the often-confounding narration. As a bonus, it leaves us with the perfect final line, “And yet …”
Opening in theaters on April 1, 2022