Emotionally Shattering Huesera Leaves a Lasting Mark
Mexican import Huesera: The Bone Woman is not for the faint of heart. Filmmaker Michelle Garza Cervera’s raw, emotionally blistering feature-length debut is a sojourn into longing, familial pressure, impending motherhood, and sexuality that attacks its subject matter with a gracefully pugnacious urgency some will undoubtedly find shocking. The story ponders hard questions, few of which have easy answers, with Cervera taking the audience on a wild ride into the unknown with such confident authority that her film can’t help but leave a lasting mark.
Valeria (newcomer Natalia Solián) is going to be a mother. She and her husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal) are ecstatically making plans for their baby’s arrival. But Valeria’s immediate family isn’t nearly supportive as they claim, most believing the young woman isn’t mature or mentally stable enough to be a mother. Only her secretive grandmother Isabel (Mercedes Hernández) is willing to embrace and stand up for Valeria without hesitation, and it is her protective embrace that will be needed the most as days turn to months and the baby’s birth approaches.
While this is all standard melodramatic stuff, Cervera isn’t content to leave things there. Not only does Valeria have a complicated past involving close childhood friend Octavia (Mayra Batalla) that could throw a massive wedge between her and Raúl, but there is also something else amiss with this pregnancy. There is an ominous force stalking Valeria, some sort of shape-shifting, human-figured vapor showing her terrible sights of pain, suffering, and shattered bone, and its presence is slowly driving the pregnant woman mad.
No surprise, but the central question is whether or not this entity is a product of Valeria’s imagination. The changes to her body, the way pregnancy and motherhood have taken her life in an unexpected direction, and how her family reacts when she claims there is something wrong are only a few of the character-driven avenues Cervera is interested in wandering down as she deftly weaves a sinister web.
But when you throw in the two subplots involving Isabel and Octavia, events immediately go in a variety of unexpected, yet equally haunting and bracingly intimate, directions. The impending birth has released both a seemingly demonic force hungry for blood as well as long-buried desires Valeria has tried — and failed — to destroy by marrying Raúl and entering into a life of feminine diffidence she thought would bring her happiness.
For reasons best left unrevealed here, Isabel is close to a tight-knit cabal of witches, and they may be the only ones who can help Valeria fight off the monstrosity hungering for her unborn child’s soul. But there is danger in letting them use their magic; their cure could leave scars that are as psychologically crippling as they are physically destructive.
As for Octavia, she is the catalyst that inadvertently helps the supernatural elements manifest. Her presence also gives Valeria the permission she needs to find the strength to fight back. These two women have a painful past, one that is delicately showcased in a series of brief flashbacks that Cervera eloquently sprinkles in at crucial moments. Lust, longing, love — all are explored as Valeria and Octavia rekindle their friendship in the shadow of this bond-crunching madness, and whether or not this is a good thing is a key mystery in need of being solved.
There is a meticulousness to the presentation that is frequently astonishing. Cinematographer Nur Rubio Sherwell does a splendid job of utilizing every corner of the frame. Much like Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now, or The Shining, it is often what is creeping around on the other side of a cracked door, lurking underneath the darkened recesses of a handmade crib, or standing barely outside the glare of a flickering streetlamp that provokes the most breathless anxiety.
I do wish I had felt more of a connection between Valeria and Raúl when they were together. While some of this is undeniably on purpose, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that Cervera intended their relationship and marriage to have more weight and meaning than I was frustratedly finding. I also didn’t like how nasty Valeria’s closest family members were to her (outside Isabel, of course). Their not-so-hidden disdain hit me as somewhat forced and insincere.
None of which matters, thankfully. Solián is outstanding in her debut, and the emotional physicality of her performance left me breathless. As for the finished film, the last third held me spellbound. Cervera held my nerves in the palm of her hand, and I couldn’t wait to discover Valeria’s fate as she searched for deeper truths and found reasons to keep fighting. Huesera: The Bone Woman is something special.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)