In the fairy stories most of us grew up hearing, the hero or the heroine ends up living happily ever after, and the witch is the big bad and usually ends up getting her comeuppance.
In You Won't Be Alone, drawing on Macedonian and Slavic folklore, the witch is both the bad guy and the empathetic centre of this decades-long tale.
In a remote village in Slavic Europe in an undetermined date, a mother is juggling a handful of young and rambunctious children and her newborn when a burned and disfigured witch (Anamaria Marinca) appears out of the shadows.
The woman refers to the old witch as a Wolf-Eateress, and she begs the witch not to kill or eat her baby, striking a literal deal with the devil to bring the girl up to maturity and allow the witch to come back and take her when she is a grown woman, to look after her in her old age.
The witch agrees, but the woman has other plans - she takes the baby to an ancient cave and locks her in there, telling the villagers that the baby has died, and thinking she is protecting her baby daughter.
But a dozen years later the Wolf-Eateress returns to collect on the promise and she takes the girl as her own daughter.
Now a grown woman, the girl (Sara Klimoska) is simple-minded from being shut away from the world, and she longs for the company of the local villagers she has been hidden from for so long.
The witch's magic allows the women to kill and wear the skins of both animals and humans, and across the decades the girl lives as one of the local villagers after another - now as a girl, now as a handsome man.
Across the years, she discovers what it is to be human and to be loved, while her witch mother burns with jealousy that this girl has chosen these peasant humans over her witch self.
What you see on screen has absolutely no relation to Australia, and yet this is an Australian co-production, with all of the post-production taking place here, and with a portion of its funding coming from a handful of local sources.
Macedonian-born writer-director Goran Stolevski grew up in Australia and cut his teeth directing the ABC kids series Nowhere Boys and in the writers' room for Barracuda.
This film is his feature debut, but it displays a maturity in approach that hearkens a major talent and a director to watch.
In his sparse screenplay he draws on the Macedonian folktales he grew up hearing, though unlike a neat Grimm fairytale much of the story takes place after the happily-ever. In Rapunzel the witch steals a girl and mothers her while also being her prisoner, and here, the story follows the girl for decades after she escapes her witch captor.
Stolevski brings his audience to an empathetic understanding of the witch, of both witches, of all his characters.
The film itself is shot in Serbia, and we never really learn the exact geography we're seeing.
Only through some very subtle evolutions in pre-medieval costuming from Sladjana Peric-Santrac do we understand the decades are passing.
The skin-wearing trick allows a series of actors to play the younger Wolf-Eateress, including Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace as her first "victim", who gets to emote the girl's initial wonder at her new powers and her naive misunderstandings, and later actor Carloto Cotta playing the first male body she inhabits gets to play her sexual awakening and growing human empathy. It's a fascinating conceit.
Through the witch-girl jumping between sexes and species, Stolevski explores gender dynamics, changing social and sexual mores - heaps to unpack in a film that makes you want to return for a second viewing.
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