Movie Review: HUESERA expertly finds its scares in the fear of losing one’s self
There’s very little we don’t fear as a people. Horror movies can attest to that, conjuring up stories upon stories that turn anxieties about life and human expression into scary things that can help us process our reactions to them. Often, these stories put characters on the path to confront those fears and perhaps learn a little bit about themselves in the process to be better equipped at dealing with it all. Monsters are slayed and demons are exorcised, all so the character can grow and become stronger. Change, at some level, is the goal, hopefully towards something better.
Michelle Garza Cervera’s Huesera: The Bone Woman doesn’t follow that particular model of horror. Its metaphors about motherhood, social expectations, and personal freedom point to messier and more complex ideas, ones that consider change as a thing that can pass us by and leave ghosts behind. It’s a scary thought, and it’s one that Garza Cervera pulls off with clever aggression.
Huesera follows Valeria (played by Natalia Solián), a young woman that finds a faceless entity has latched on to her first pregnancy. Her haunting strains her relationship with her husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal) and puts her on a path that paints motherhood as a hungry thing that can very easily eat up a mother’s ability to be her own person.
The movie, written by Garza Cervera (who also featured a segment in the horror anthology movie México Bárbaro II) and Abia Castillo, doesn’t just settle on the fears of motherhood for the duration, though. In fact, I found it to be a red herring that smartly concealed its other, more potent metaphors for when the time was right to make them known. A lot of that is hinted when we meet Valeria’s old love interest, a woman called Octavia (Mayra Batalla), a lost opportunity that figures into Valeria’s struggles in ways that deepen the horror in meaningful and refreshing ways.
One of the great successes of the film lies in its ability to never let the supernatural elements get swallowed up by its metaphors. The entity that oppresses Valeria is terrifying, a faceless being that contorts its body by breaking its bones and knitting them back together to skitter around like an insect with malicious intent. This is tied to Valeria’s own physical reactions to stress and anger, but I’ll leave that for the movie to show.
What’s impressive is how well each horror sequence plays with the sounds of the entity’s bones cracking to ramp up the tension. The entity is mostly shrouded in darkness, but enough of it is shown to give audiences a scary memento to take with them come bedtime. There’s one particular scare that lands like a statement on jump scares, speaking to how powerful subverting expectations in these moments can be (like foregoing the musical crescendo that announces the coming of the jump scare, for instance). They also got the timing of it just right.
At a time when the more indie/arthouse horror movies are keeping their ghosts and specters in very dark shadows and in locations submerged in full black, to put more weight on the viewer to populate those spaces with the things they think hide there, I appreciated that Huesera gives its audience something more concrete to chew on. This pays off in the end especially as Garza Cervera offers up a chilling encounter that is uniquely disturbing, while featuring few nods to some of the best in Japanese horror (in fact, Junji Ito’s Uzumaki can be seen on a bookshelf at one point in the film), by showing us how terrifyingly cruel the presence can be.
Another commendable achievement is Garza Cervera’s mastery of tone and lighting to create haunting images in bright settings, which isn’t a regular occurrence in the horror genre. It points to the creative team’s willingness to trust the material and take risks with it.
Natalia Solián’s performance as Valeria pulls all these elements together with her ability to portray absolute fear with her wide range of facial expressions. It’s easy to feel the movie thanks to Solián’s physicality, subdued and quiet in parts while angry and excruciating in others. It’s a remarkable display of character building and it makes the film hit harder as the haunting becomes more sinister.
A lot also has to be said of Huesera’s approach to sexuality and identity, too, in all its dimensions. The characters’ responses to these considerations feel realistic and genuine, not so much as a statement on representation but rather as a fact of life that still clashes with stubborn social norms in manners that aren’t often perceived the same way by everyone involved (all within a Mexican perspective, which has its own specificities). It adds layers to the story, painting a fairly chaotic picture where clear answers are in short supply and not even flirted with.
Huesera is one of those movies that provide an example to follow for filmmakers savvy enough to appreciate its methods. It’s a movie that dares to confront a lot to get at a sense of terror that makes real life be just as scary as the supernatural. It’s themes and metaphors require engagement, the kind that asks viewers to step out of their comfort zones to find meaning in darker places. Huesera justifies that journey into the dark, and it shows very little mercy along the way.