Stellar acting. Inspired direction. Electrifying tension. Huesera: The Bone Woman is a dramatic horror film that had me checking more than once if what I was watching was really a directorial debut. But it is. This is indeed Mexican director Michelle Garza Cervera's debut – she also co-writes the film with Abia Castillo – and if this is just the beginning, I anticipate a successful career in any genre she embraces.
Huesera is a film about expectations: about what society expects from us, and about deciding to pursue what we want. Valeria (Natalia Során) is pregnant for the first time, and as if that wasn't terrifying enough, she begins to be visited by sinister presences that test her sanity. The premise, told like this, is nothing particularly innovative and has been explored countless times since Rosemary’s Baby (1968). However, Cervera’s approach elevates the film to more than just another genre movie.
Pregnancy is always a challenging and scary period in a woman's life and those around her. I cannot experience it, but just thinking about life forming inside me for nine months that will then be separated from me makes me anxious. The physical and psychological implications of this process are a big part of the thematics of this film. However, it surprises us when it goes even deeper. From a certain point on, the viewer realizes that not everything has to do with how scary pregnancy can be from a biological perspective. As hints are given here and there, we begin to understand that, for Valeria, pregnancy is a life step she feels is mandatory, even though she doesn't quite know why. It's something internalized that she accepts and convinces herself that she wants, but perhaps it's all just a result of the way society sees women.
Who is Valeria, after all? It is during her third trimester of pregnancy that we begin to better understand who she is. Likewise, it is during this time that she herself rediscovers who she really is, facing a series of both natural and supernatural happenings that have their roots in a traumatic past. This duality experienced throughout the film – whether because pregnancy means two lives in one body or because she is being a Valeria who may not be her true self – is also explored by way of the curse that looms over her.
Beyond parallels between pregnancy and a curse, which I consider deeply exaggerated, what I see are parallels between a curse and living a reality that is different from who we are. It is necessary to cut off the evil, release the shackles and be free to be who we really are. In a film so centered around its protagonist and her journey, the lead actress is obviously the focus and Natalia Solián gives a deeply fascinating performance. Rarely expressing it through words, it is in her gaze and gestures that she tells us everything, showing us different feelings that range from satisfaction to fear, passing from desire to melancholy to doubt.
This emotional exploration is vivid, but Huesera does not forget to be a horror film. Do not expect jump scares after jump scares, as this is not that type of horror. However, you can expect tense and slow scenes, developing the necessary atmosphere and suspense for something significant to happen. The way people treat Valeria is also reminiscent of several horror classics – with Rosemary's Baby, of course, at the forefront of anyone’s mind – and it works as its own form of psychological terror. The most compelling part is that that element is conveyed with unusual class and precision: impeccable shot composition, slow movement and dignified control of the various elements in the scene, whether they be in the foreground or background.
Cervera's work with the film's dual horror and dramatic elements leave high expectations for what she may bring to cinema in the future. The introduction of various elements of local culture – in this case, Mexican social norms and folk rituals – is done in an engaging and refreshing way.
The rituals and the entity in question are both shown, but always in a more suggestive than revealing way, with, for example, the name or the exact nature of it never being disclosed. This lack of supplemental information may be seen as insufficient by some, but it certainly was not the result of chance. The entity is frightening and real even if we are never told who it is. On the other hand, it is Valeria’s true spirit that is clear, even if she never dares to say it out loud. Ultimately, as much as we try to escape or conform, that betrayal of self will catch up with us. Maybe in the form of a natural event. Or perhaps as a curse...
Huesera: The Bone Woman is available to rent on VOD.