Huesera: The Bone Woman Movie Review
Huesera: The Bone Woman Movie Review Metadata
Shudder is debuting the Mexican supernatural horror, Huesera: The Bone Woman (2022) this month and it’s a mixed bag of pre-natal depression, psychotic nightmares, and lost youth.
Valeria (Natalia Solián) is experiencing some drastic changes in her life. After previous fruitless tries, she and her husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal) are finally pregnant. This means turning her woodworking studio into a nursery, saying goodbye to some previous dreams and aspirations, and learning to relax for the sake of the baby. She lacks the support of her mother and sister, and neither believes she is mature or stable enough to care for a child. Whether that comes from the break in traditional homemaker roles, since Val is an accomplished carpenter, it’s hard to say. She does find comfort in her grandmother, Isabel (Mercedes Hernández ) and her cadre of friends (implied to be lesbians and probably witches), and the arms of her friend Octavia (Mayra Batalla), who is resentful of the life Val has chosen, and Val herself, who can’t make up her mind about what she wants. Valeria experiences waking nightmares in the form of faceless broken women falling from windows, breaking into her home, and chasing her. It’s all likely an allegory for motherhood and the biologically barbaric changes a woman’s body goes through in order to carry and birth new life, but there is a lot of indigenous lore I was initially a little lost on.
A little research reveals the legend of La Huesera is of a bone collector who wanders looking for the bones of wolves and other “forgotten” creatures, and once she has enough, literally sings them back to life, first as a wolf, and then as a woman before running free. Is this meant as a stand in for the forgotten pieces of Valerie’s life that she unconsciously picks up and attempts to resurrect as her body changes and betrays her?
I dunno, maybe, but I can’t be too far off.
Because this is traditional Mexico, like traditional Spain, life is bound to legend and lore and ritual. What looks normal to the average passerby is a psychotic break brought on by anxiety, depression and some unresolved trauma. Huesera: The Bone Woman instead looks towards a spiritual cause for Valeria’s problems. Instead of Spain’s default solution of throwing a priest at every problem, Mexico looks instead towards the bruja, almost always older, single women who plunge deep to the elbows into blood and fluids and ceremony to break whatever generational curse has latched onto Valeria. Huesera: The Bone Woman opens with a striking image of the Monumental Virgin (Mary) of Guadalupe in Ocuilan. There are 640 steps just to reach her feet where the exhausted penitent pray. While it seems Val’s prayers have been answered, there is a deeper force that can only be driven out by the old magics.
This spiritual back-and-forth pull, along with Valeria’s indecision on the direction of her own life, make up the bulk of Huesera: The Bone Woman. This is a woman with a happy life who cannot bring herself to enjoy everything she believes she has wanted. The body horror is disturbing unsettling stuff, so there’s no doubt as to why Shudder snapped it up after its Tribeca festival wins, but the casual viewer who is unschooled on Mexican mythology may feel a little adrift. Writer-director Michelle Garza Cervera paints a very modern picture of womanhood in a society painfully birthing itself from very conventional roles. In her debut feature-length film, Cervera uses the entire frame to box Valeria into her new life. Shots are held just long enough for dreadful anticipation to bloom and creep along the very edges of vision. I may not have known what was going on, but I was emotionally invested in the ride.
And that’s what Huesera: The Bone Woman needs – for the casual viewer to be fully invested in the ride. There’s a strong message there about the horrors of motherhood, like Umma (2022), Son (2021), and We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). It’s not for everyone.
Huesera: The Bone Woman (2022) is unrated but call it Rated R for broken bodies, compound fractures, sexy times, birth, faceless terrors, blood, abandonment, spellcraft, self-harm, spiders, smoking, and arson.
Huesera: The Bone Woman is streaming exclusively on Shudder.