Vague Visages’ Huesera: The Bone Woman review contains minor spoilers. Michelle Garza Cervera’s 2022 movie stars Alfonso Dosal, Natalia Solián and Mayra Batalla. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
A pregnancy is scary but remains a curiously untapped subject in horror movies. The most famous example, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), has been sullied by controversies surrounding disgraced director Roman Polanski, while films like Alice Lowe’s Prevenge (2016) or Paddy Murphy’s The Perished (2019) are so criminally underseen that most people aren’t even aware that they exist. Huesera: The Bone Woman, the stunning feature directorial debut from Mexican filmmaker Michelle Garza Cervera, falls somewhere in between all three. The movie is simultaneously a furiously feminist take on motherhood, a condemnation of how women are still expected to fall into perceived gender roles in society and a truly terrifying take on how isolating, confusing and downright disturbing it is just to be pregnant in the first place.
Huesera: The Bone Woman is led by Natalia Solián in a stunning, star-making turn as Valeria, a 30-something carpenter who desperately tries to conceive a child with her well-meaning partner, Raúl (Alfonso Dosal). These early moments are sensitively played and will arguably cut a bit too close to the bone for anybody who’s tried for a while, particularly unsuccessfully, to have a baby. Valeria holds her legs straight up in the air immediately after a sexual encounter and wistfully watches children playing in the park. Moreover, the opening sequence finds her praying to a gigantic gold statue of the Virgin Mary, with an ominous pull-back suggesting that Valeria is pledging her soul to Satan.
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When Valeria and Raúl finally receive confirmation that they’re expecting, it’s a happy moment that curdles almost instantly as Solián’s character starts receiving harsh judgement from everybody in her life. Whether it’s her sister, who already has two kids of her own and cruely claims that Valeria almost missed the boat, or a male doctor who chastises her for not gaining enough weight and potentially putting her baby in danger by working around dangerous chemicals, the expectant mother gets it from all angles. Worse still, Valeria hallucinates and believes that there’s a supernatural presence following her around (the bone woman of the title). Of course, nobody else can see it.
Huesera: The Bone Woman could easily be interpreted as a metaphor for the destruction of women’s bodies through pregnancy, childbirth and the aftermath. The imagery is both evocative and provocative, with a strong, stomach-churning current of body horror that suits the topic eloquently. Aside from the malevolent spirit making a horrible cracking noise whenever it moves, Valeria constantly cracks her knuckles in a recurring motif that signifies how uncomfortable she is in social situations, and in her own body since giving it over to someone else. Likewise, a nurse cheerfully holds up a massive, curved needle and reassures Valeria that it’s only going to be “a few stitches” soon after she’s given birth. Nobody seems to understand, or even acknowledge, that the protagonist is in distress.
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Valeria also feels like an alien in her body because of a deeply buried same-sex attraction, which comes bubbling back up to the surface when she reconnects with a former paramour. In a thrilling flashback, it’s revealed that Valeria was once much freer — rocking a bleached, shaved head no less — and openly queer. The reasons why she decided to give up that life and go straight, in every meaning of the word, aren’t immediately clear, but it’s obvious that Valeria keeps certain aspects of herself hidden. When making love to her boyfriend, she remains mostly clothed, but Valeria gets completely naked with her female lover. Being a carpenter is quite a manly job, even nowadays, and scenes of Valeria building her baby’s crib seem to hint at her sexuality, but Octavia (Mayra Batalla) also represents the kind of fulfilling, childless life the protagonist could have, if only she was brave enough to reach out and grab it.
Cervera, who also penned the screenplay, has plenty to say about bodily autonomy, the role of women in modern society and whether motherhood is necessarily the right fit for some women. This is best exemplified in a terrifying but undeniably relatable moment when Valeria is so desperate to get her baby to stop screaming that she hides it somewhere unthinkable. Few things are as taboo in film as violence against children, and although Valeria obviously tries to protect her daughter, when her desperation leads to asking a group of local witches for help, there’s a sense that maybe she’d be better off simply accepting defeat. Thus, the sound design is hugely effective, with the cracking bones providing a kind of offbeat soundtrack to Valeria’s journey into darkness.
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The fact that nobody trusts what Valeria tells them solidifies how women are disbelieved, and the defiantly feminist note on which Huesera: The Bone Woman ends ensures that nobody is in any doubt about where the writer-director stands on these hot-button issues. In a world where Roe v. Wade has been struck down, and the rights of both women and LGBTQ+ people are consistently under attack, Cervera’s story feels especially vital. The director goes full force with it too, displaying the horrors of motherhood without any kind of rom-com varnish and allowing her female protagonist to be realistically messy, vulnerable and selfish without ever judging her for it. And yet, the most troubling thing about Huesera: The Bone Woman may just be how much of it will ring true to any woman watching.
Huesera: The Bone Woman released in February 2023 via XYZ Films.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, 2023 Horror Reviews, Drama, Featured, Horror
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