Huesera: The Bone Woman, director Michelle Garza Cervera’s feature-film debut, is a psychological horror movie that tells the story of Valeria (Natalia Solián; Red Shoes), a Mexican woman finding out that, just as her husband and herself were trying, she has gotten pregnant. We see her building a cradle and celebrating with her partner until before long, the dream reveals itself to be a grotesque nightmare.
As we learn more about Valeria and her past, we realize that not all is as it seems. The first hint we get at her discomfort comes in the shape of a doctor advising her to stop her carpentry and welding work during the pregnancy, as the fumes created by the chemicals the process creates can damage the fetus. No one, not even her husband, seems to be able to understand the disappointment this brings to Valeria, who is forced to quit her job and passion. For another person, this might seem an obvious and little sacrifice in comparison, but it is instantaneously obvious that this is not the case for her, as it becomes clear that this whole situation is something that she has never wanted in the first place.
It is impossible to separate the protagonist from the fact that she is a Mexican woman. This is apparent when she meets with her family on mother’s day. Already aware that Valeria is expecting, it quickly becomes a focal point of discussion; a discussion that is filled with rude and insensitive comments directed towards her and the type of person that she is. Comments about how she was just in time before ‘’the train passed her’’, trying to upset her by reminding her of how little she likes kids, how unfit she is to care for them, and especially how much of an opposite she is to the concept they have of what a mother is. She is not the only person being attacked here, though, as her aunt is perceived as the same type of outcast, and a few insults are thrown her way as well. Even when Valeria offers to babysit her niece and nephew so that her parents and sister-in-law can have a night out, it becomes a point of tension.
Valeria bears the weight of expectations. More specifically, the expectations of what a woman should be and what she should do with her life. She had already gotten herself inside a cage by getting together with her boyfriend, and she effectively welded it shut with the baby. This realization gets in front of her when she reunites with a past girlfriend of her youth, with whom she planned to leave their city before things took a turn and she felt forced to stay. The love they had may have vanished, but what she represents for Valeria is still there.
All of this is quite unsettling and upsetting in its own right, yet the movie introduces the horror element with great sound design and acting. When faced with these situations and struggles, Valeria starts cracking her bones, which we hear in agonizing detail. This is only the beginning, though, as she is then hunted by a mysterious entity who appears as a crawling woman with broken bones. This fear is not just about pain, but about feeling as if your own being is breaking apart, escaping you, fighting you. This is a great parallel to the changes she is physically undergoing thanks to the pregnancy, as well as being a great use of body horror.
Huesera: The Bone Woman is a great horror film, as shocking and impactful as it is scary. It portrays what it’s like living as a woman and feeling like your path is being chosen for you, forced to go through life-changing situations because it is what’s expected of you. And it cannot be understated how much Natalia Solián’s performance adds to the movie, which even at this early stage of the year I feel will go down as one of the best of 2023. Cervera directs her character with such care and compassion and attention to detail, which follows through the whole movie; one of my favorite scenes is when she meets her ex-girlfriend before we even know anything about her past, yet with barely anything said we instantly know that the two have more history intertwining them than they let on. I recommend every horror fan out there, and especially fans of the modern wave of horror that made a home for itself in the genre these last few years, to not miss out on seeing Huesera: The Bone Woman, for it will not disappoint.
Huesera: The Bone Woman is available now from XYZ Films