"Huesera: The Bone Woman"
review by Diablo Joe
"Huesera: The Bone Woman"
Maternity and pregnancy have always had ties to horror. Over the years, films have explored creation, symbiosis, and other topics. Coming to us from Mexico, "Huesera: The Bone Woman" explores a complex combination of themes, uncertainty, loss of identity, and other fears paired with Mexican neo-paganism in a thoughtful and highly unsettling mix.
Valeria and her husband have been diligently trying to get pregnant. But when she finally gets the joyous news, things dim rather than the opposite. Valeria starts to doubt everything about her world and her ability to be a good mother, all the while tormented by a nightmarish presence that wracks her bones with pain and further drags her into darkness.
There is a lot of subtext at play throughout "Husera." Some of it is experiences and fears that could be shared by many first-time mothers-to-be, while others are intrinsic to Mexican culture. But director Michelle Garza Cervera shapes these multi facets into a clear, direct story while still leaving much of it up to the audience's interpretation. Valeria's family greets her news with congratulations. But these well-wishes carry a backhandedness showing just how outside of the family norm Valeria has always been. Only Valeria's aunt Isabel seems to understand and truly appreciate her.
It's through the family's description of Isabel as a "spinster" and a flashback to Valeria's rebellious, punk teen years that we begin to understand some of the turmoil affecting her. She loves her husband and wants the baby, but this conflicts with aspects of her past she has never entirely left behind. It becomes evident that much of Valeria's life is a façade and has become as internal as it is public.
Is this the source of the force that she perceives as such a demonic tormenter? Perhaps, but a visit to a local woman for a blessing suggests differently. Ursula senses there is something amiss. Is she genuinely sensing something sinister or reading Valeria's fears and interpreting them as her spiritual inclinations tell her? For certain, something is wrong, and it does not alleviate once Valeria's child is born. Here, the film moves from impending horror to a full-throated nightmare. It's hard to say which is more disturbing, the grotesque trio of bruja who attend to Valeria and her child or the truly unsettling imagery that Garza Cervera unspools for the film's climax.
It's fascinating to see so much incredible work from female voices in horror, and all the better when they share perspectives from outside our familiar culture. One need not be versed in Mexican neo-pagan lore, such as Santa Muerte, championed as the protector of those shunned by mainstream Mexican society. "Huesera: The Bone Woman's" themes are clear enough. But a bit of extra subtext will reward you with a deeper understanding of some of the movie's elements.
"Huesera: The Bone Woman" is a fine piece of filmmaking from a first-time director who promises to have much more to say. It is thought-provoking, emotionally complex, and driven by fine performances and a smart script. It’s a film devoid of jump scares or gore, but that maintains its tension throughout, always keeping its audience at the precipice.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Huesera: The Bone Woman" 3.5 out of 5 imps.