As a woman, the world around us often tells us our purpose in life is to become a mother. We are told there is no greater gift than bringing a child into this world. But what happens when a woman tries so hard to get pregnant and succeeds, only to not feel the joy we’ve been taught to expect? In Huesera: The Bone Woman, audiences witness the dire consequences of trying to be something you’re not.
Co-writers Abia Castillo and Michelle Garza Cervera both make their feature-film debut with Huesera: The Bone Woman, with Cervera also directing the film. The story follows Valeria (Natalia Solián), a young woman in Mexico who is happily married and trying to start a family. The filmmakers waste no time conveying how important getting pregnant is to Valeria. Shortly after she succeeds, Valeria awakens during the night to witness a woman jump out of a window across the street from her apartment. From that moment on, the broken woman seems to haunt Valeria, stalking her and trying to bring her harm. It creates a constant sense of danger throughout the film. Even when Valeria seems to be happy with her life and family, the presence of this woman is a constant threat that could strip away that happiness at a moment’s notice.
Huesera: The Bone Woman addresses some fascinating dilemmas in a compelling way. On the surface, it seems to just be about a mother in danger, but it goes much deeper than that. The more we get to know Valeria, the more the audience begins to understand motherhood is not something she’s always wanted. She used to be a queer, punk teen running around with her friends screaming “we don’t like domestication” and dreaming of leaving everything behind. It wasn’t until a tragedy in her family that Valeria’s plans for herself changed. Instead of doing what she wanted with her life, she began to do what she felt was best for her family, even if it meant sacrificing who she was. Even adult Valeria, who at first seems to be happy in her marriage and excited to become a mother, slowly loses more and more of herself. She is a skilled furniture maker with her own workshop in their small apartment, but when she becomes pregnant that workshop is sacrificed to become a nursery. Valeria becomes less her own person through the film and more simply a wife and a mother. The bone woman threatening Valeria is a supernatural manifestation of her inner unhappiness at not being true to who she is. She can hide this from those around her, but she can’t hide the truth from herself.
While the entire cast of Huesera: The Bone Woman is wonderful, Natalia Solián (Red Shoes) is the heart and soul of the film. Solián particularly excels at portraying Valeria as a demure, obedient young woman. Yet the audience is given glimpses of the cracks in her façade, gradually revealing the real Valeria. She doesn’t convey this just with her words, but with her entire body. Sometimes all it takes is a quick look, a moment when Valeria’s happy mask drops just for a second, or a simple cracking of the knuckles that lets us know the inner turmoil this character is going through. It’s such a powerful performance that is sure to burrow into the hearts of the audience, especially those who can relate to Valeria’s journey.
The film includes some really disturbing imagery that is guaranteed to get under the skin of viewers. Huesera: The Bone Woman delivers on the frights with the terrifying, broken woman following Valeria. She is usually shown in the shadows or with quick glimpses, but her fractured appearance is enough to trigger anyone’s fight or flight response. Part of what makes the titular supernatural villain so horrifying is the wonderful sound design of the film. The sound of cracking, breaking bones can be heard whenever she is near. Even when the bone woman isn’t visible, the breaking and snapping sounds are amplified in the scenes when Valeria is cracking her knuckles, alerting the audience to the antagonist’s constant presence even when she can’t be seen. It manages to be scary, setting your teeth on edge. The climax of Huesera: The Bone Woman intensifies both the imagery and sound design, delivering a horror that is sure to haunt the audience long after the film ends.
Huesera: The Bone Woman takes a spine-tingling crack at showcasing the dangers of not being true to who you are. This is a stunning debut for both Castillo and Cervera, making me look forward to what they do next. There is apparent care in both the writing and directing as the film tackles some potentially sensitive topics, while also delivering many genuinely horrifying moments. Solián’s performance deftly carries the weight of the film, making Huesera: The Bone Woman all the more compelling. This film is a perfect example of how captivating a powerful metaphor in horror can be, and it’s a strong case for more investment in Mexican, queer, and woman-led horror films.
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10