Huesera Bone Woman Review

Huesera (2022), directed by Michelle Garza Cervera | FEATURE FILM REVIEW

Ghost stories, and indeed horror films in general, are at their best when it is not so much about the demon/creature that hunts our protagonist, but about why the protagonist can see the beast in the first place. So it is with Huesera (2022), the debut feature by Michelle Garza Cervera which, though creepy and delivering a good scare or two, is more a character study about a woman trapped within society’s expectations of her and her need to twist free at all costs. 

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Regrets, shadows and broken bones. 

Huesera follows Valeria (played wonderfully by Natalia Solián in her feature debut), a woman in love with her husband and desperate for a baby. So desperate that the film opens with her on a pilgrimage to seek aid from the Virgin Mary in order to conceive. It’s a beautiful opening that sets the tone for the rest of the film: Women crawling on their knees upwards towards the towering statue of the Virgin Mary, a looming figure looking benevolently down towards those who would come crawling. 

Reminiscent of Alex Garland’s Devs (2020) with its towering figure of a small girl amidst the trees and coupled with the chanting and shared feminine experience of begging for a child against the odds, it is a suitably haunting image. And that is before we get to the spooky stuff! It is an impressive opening and Cervera’s debut feature never really lets us down from here on in. You’re in good hands, Huesera is telling us. It isn’t wrong.  

Valaria’s wish is granted and she becomes pregnant. But all is not well. She is almost immediately beset by doubts, which are given all the more time to fester as she is now unable to work. Her small carpentry business means she is around too many chemicals so might harm the child. Soon, bored one evening, she sees a female figure throwing themselves out of the window from the apartment opposite but when crying for her husband Raúl (played with initial warmth by Alfonso Dosal before quickly becoming a gaslighting cliché and one of the few areas the film falls down) the figure is, gasp, no longer there! Thus she becomes haunted by the ‘Bone Woman’ of the film’s title. Its encroachment echoing her ever-increasing doubts about motherhood. 

Inevitable and creeping crepitus. 

From here on in the film becomes a meditation on Valeria’s desire to continue her pregnancy. Is it actually what she wants or is she just doing it to appease her husband? Valeria seeks solace from her family but finds no joy there as all and sundry seem to think she would make a poor parent; humiliating her at family dinners and scolding her when an attempt to babysit goes horrifically wrong. Her father is cold, her mother clueless and her sister actively hostile. 

Anxiety levels rising, shown via Valeria’s compulsive knuckle cracking, she seeks comfort in her Auntie Isobel, Mercedes Hernández, a ‘spinster’ who is actually a closeted lesbian, and in an old girlfriend Octavia, Mayra Batalla.  Isobel can only do so much as she operates on the periphery of things herself and Octavia eventually turns Valeria away (she is married after all) and moving up the social ladder where Octavia remains at ground level; choosing the freedom of mountain living and punk rock over Valeria’s self-imposed Jazz and Art critiques. 

Though, on that note, I loathe Jazz as much as the next fellow but can we move away from it being a shorthand for snobbery and exclusion with punk rock being the shorthand for authenticity, please? It’s been done to death. Rich people are allowed to be authentic and punk rockers can gatekeep with the best of us.  

Heavy-handed tropes aside, there is a wonderful duality in Huesera that pops up throughout. Mother/whore, straight/gay, man/woman, rich/poor, Catholicism/Paganism. All are touched upon and Valeria tries her best to twist herself so as better to fit into all spaces. Unsurprising then, that the Bone Woman who haunts her (and whose appearances are treated with restraint and provide decent chills) is literally splitting at the seams. Twisted and cracked, its movements that of a crushed body; crawling instead of walking. 

Snap, cackle and popping joints

Things only escalate when the baby arrives (which was a pleasant surprise as one expects this sort of film to culminate with such events); Valeria isn’t overly fussed. Postpartum depression looming large. It is here, in a space one didn’t expect to see, that the film comes closest to breaking some truly shocking ground. 

Valeria, tired and worn from the pregnancy and existing in the nether space that new mothers do when their partners return to work (which is something Raúl does a LOT of) gives in to her visions and, like the Babadook (2014) before it, allows herself to be carried along. The film never truly has the courage to go as far as we think it might but this terrifying near miss causes Valeria to finally deal with her problems.

Contortion and an ever-shifting self-image

And it is this surprisingly balletic confrontation where the film’s message about Valeria’s need to be free becomes clearest. Its arresting visuals and callbacks to earlier moments in the film’s opening give Huesera a rounded and thoroughly thought-through sense of closure. The ending is both what we expect and also its opposite, displaying a level of storytelling maturity and messiness appropriate for such a discussion around parenthood and one’s desire not to conform. 

Thus, Huesera is a maturely told story that looks amazing thanks to the cinematography of Nur Rubio Sherwell (showing a side of Mexico City that is both authentic and heightened) and sounds fantastic thanks to some gut-wrenching sound design by Christian Giraud. It isn’t a true bone chiller (more bone breaker to be honest) but this is a fascinating character study and really worth your time.

4 out of 5 stars

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A screenwriter based in the North East of England. Loves producing slow-burning, thoughtful stories with an undercurrent of graphic violence.

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