Folk tales and legends in horror have long been helpful to filmmakers. After all, the first ghost stories we told in the dark were often meant to scare each other into behaving. In many ways, modern horror draws heavily from the oral traditions of centuries past. In the case of Huesera: The Bone Woman, director Michelle Garza Cervera embraces an unspoken truth. As Gaza Cervera dives into the fears of motherhood, she raises important questions about its importance to womanhood. As she does, Huesera provides frights and scares the audience will never forget.
A young woman named Valeria (Natalia Solián) wants to start a family. She’s in a happy relationship with Raul (Alfonso Dosal), and has already begun building her baby’s crib. When she discovers she’s pregnant, the couple begins to celebrate. However, others around her do not believe Valeria is ready for motherhood. Worse, she begins experiencing panic attacks and nightmares. As she’s scared into the arms of a former lover, Octavia (Mayra Batella), Valeria experiences unique visions.
Much of Huesera: The Bone Woman dives straight into a debate about the importance of motherhood. Many women never wish to pursue having a baby. In fact, many never will due to their sexual orientation. Huesera acknowledges this through its main character and further begins asking hard questions about the psychological effects of motherhood on a woman. Some of these threads end in dark places, but the fact the conversations occur at all is a testament to Garza Cervera.
In many ways, Huesera: The Bone Woman confronts fears of childbirth in a direct fashion. It’s bloody and gory. It features the sounds of bones crunching and physical transformations. Garza Cervera embraces body horror and contortionist visuals. She shoots the human body through the eyes of one obsessed. The passion is powerful. It leaks through the screen and makes it impossible not to marvel at the oddity of our skin and bones.
Devotion to its lead actress allows Huesera to pull out moments lesser films could not capture. Garza Cervera has such an eye for detail that it makes its way into every corner of the screen. Valeria moves through different moments, seeking normalcy, sexual gratification, and a life without pain. A mixture of extreme closeups and full body shots forces the audience to understand and read Solián’s body. This helps the slightest hesitation or glance speak volumes.
However, Garza Cervera and DP Nur Rubio Sherwell do not build this performance. Much of Huesera begins and ends with Solián’s performance. Without a willingness to expose the vulnerabilities of her thoughts on the screen, it’s doubtful that Huesera works. Yet her ability to communicate her frustrations and changing emotions helps craft a believable performance. As her mental health deteriorates, the performance asks important questions about whether we see possessions or a mental breakdown. Solián shifts between loving looks, fear-inducing thousand-mile stares, and a face of terror. It’s impressive and makes Huesera a remarkable film.
Additionally, the actual scares of Huesera chill to the bones. The soundscape creates an important foundation, with the sounds of bones cracking and popping nearly crafting a score unto themselves. When violence does it occur, Garza Cervera is ready to show it all. When a foot, arm, or bone snaps, Huesera: The Bone Woman lives up to its name. The visuals of compound fractures and broken bodies are among the most disturbing of the year.
The only real knock on Huesera is the length of time it gets before we dive into the scares. It’s a slow burn, which will leave some audiences cold. Once the scary sequences begin, Huesera briskly moves through them. One in particular, involving a background camera, becomes one of the most stressful scenes of the film. Another nitpick that’s impossible to avoid is Huesera’s overuse of jump scares. There are a few too many that seem to come out of nowhere, seemingly to prevent the long stretches without them. However, this creates cheap thrills instead of ones that build (like the marvelous finale).
The ambiguity of the final third of the film opens many questions. Yet Huesera thrives on its lack of answers. The experience of a woman struggling with what it means to be a mother would be effective enough. Yet it pushes the discourse further, examining what it means to be happy in life. With brilliant cinematography and an excellent performance to anchor it, Huesera: The Bone Woman is a must-see for horror fans.