Giving birth is like breaking 20 bones in your body at one time. It’s painful. It changes your body, rearranges your insides, and, in some cases, literally rips you open and can break your pelvis. Huesera captures the physical change of motherhood and birth in excruciating detail while also centering the mental health issues around it, like post-partum depression. A maternal horror film by Mexican writer-director Michelle Garza Cervera (with co-writer Abia Castillo), Huesera is about the process of birthing and how it changes you deeply, sometimes unknowingly, and how motherhood is preparing for welcoming that.
In the film, Valeria (Natalia Solián) is expecting her first child. Filled with joy, her life is moving forward perfectly, just as her family wanted. Her boyfriend, Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), couldn’t be happier and is extremely ready to be a dad. But the excitement soon turns to something different as visions and a terrible presence begins to interrupt her life and drown her slowly. As her body becomes painful and her sense of reality begins to twist, she comes to the terrible realization that she may be cursed by a supernatural entity, La Huesera (“Bone Woman”). As her pregnancy progresses and panic intensifies, her behavior begins to scare those around her as she endangers other’s children and her own.
Huesera reimagines the folktale of The Bone Woman, La Huesera. Collecting wolf bones, she assembles them into a body that comes to life and leaves, into the distance, as a free woman. This is captured beautifully in the film, both visually and emotionally, as we see Valeria break and remake herself. While this film thrives in the maternal and folkloric horror space, it also uses Catholicism and the weight of motherhood it casts upon women, rejecting independence, queerness, and anything that doesn’t fit “tradition.”
In the film, Cervera anchors motherhood in joy and pain. In the beginning, Valeria is happy. She’s willfully holding her legs up after lackluster but happy sex with her husband in the hopes of conceiving. She is blessed at a statue of de Virgin de Guadalupe to help her get pregnant. She crafts beautiful furniture and decorations for the unborn child giving up her hobbies in the process.
Huesera showcases that women, mothers, can change their mind and push back against the future that society and culture has thrust them into. This joyful expression of potential motherhood morphs into a nightmare as she begins to see visions of women contorting and breaking their bodies, killing themselves, stalking her constantly, and threatening her family and future.
But in that pain, Valeria reaches into her past. A transgressive young woman, cued by bold hair choices and a punk soundtrack, Valeria once shunned the life she so ferociously wants to hold onto. Over the course of the film, Valeria’s fear of the encroaching specters of doom is eased only when she embraces her first love, Octavia (Mayra Batalla), and begins to remember who she was before motherhood and how this process has changed her. In addition to the internal and physical struggles we see, Huesera also illustrates the devastating toll of post-partum depression and the danger it causes; but never uses it for shock, only to lower you into a pool of dread.
That said, the film doesn’t only use visuals to scare its audience. Through brutal sound design, Hueseras captures its monstrous aspirations of women with the sounds of bodies breaking and popping continuously. Each sound is too loud, too painful, too much, and it all builds a narrative tension until finally releasing the audience in a terrifying third act that thrives in body horror only to give way for a powerful catharsis that tells women who have chosen not to be mothers that peace can come.
Huesera is a visceral look at motherhood and the forces that propel women to and through it. It unpacks the struggle to define yourself outside of motherhood and the process of realizing it’s not who you are. Beautiful and terrifying, Cervera’s feature film debut is a foundation-shattering experience as a horror fan and Mexican American woman who is subject to many of the patriarchal and sexist pressures that encase your identity in motherhood only. In addition to the maternal horror subgenre, it crafts peace from terror and acceptance through unrelenting body-breaking pain.
Huesera screened at Fantasia International Film Festival 2022 and will be released in 2023.
- Rating - 10/1010/10
Huesera is a visceral look at motherhood and the forces that propel women to and through it. It unpacks the struggle to define yourself outside of motherhood and the process of realizing it’s not who you are. Beautiful and terrifying, Cervera’s feature film debut is a foundation-shattering experience…In addition to the maternal horror subgenre, it crafts peace from terror and acceptance through unrelenting body-breaking pain.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.