21st Feb2023

‘Huesera: The Bone Woman’ VOD Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Natalia Solien, Alfonso Dosal, Mayra Batalla, Mercedes Hernández, Sonia Couoh | Written by Michelle Garza Cervera, Abia Castillo | Directed by Michelle Garza Cervera

A woman becomes increasingly afraid of her own pregnancy in this intriguing blend of folk horror and body horror. Gripping, chilling and deeply unsettling, it marks a striking horror debut for Mexican co-writer-director Michelle Garza Cervera.

The title refers to the Mexican Huesera myth, whereby a female spectre roams the desert, gathering buried bones so that it can possess the body of someone living, in a way that then frees them from their earthly torments. That said, within the context of the film, it’s essentially like a Mexican spin on Rosemary’s Baby.

Huesera: The Bone Woman begins with young Valeria (Natalia Solien) leaving gifts at the feet of a giant Virgin Mary statue, in the hopes that she will soon become pregnant by her handsome, supportive husband, Raul (Alfonso Dosal). When that comes to pass, Valeria’s family are delighted, but she becomes increasingly anxious, experiencing aural and visual hallucinations and worrying that something will go wrong with her pregnancy.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Valeria also worries that she’ll be a terrible mother, not least because she’s constantly reminded by her less than sympathetic sister Vero (Sonia Couoh) of an incident in the past when she was babysitting and the child in her care fell down some stairs. As her anxieties, nightmares and visions increase, Valeria seeks help from her convention-defying aunt Isabel (Mercedes Hernández), but her supernatural solution comes with its own set of problems.

Garza Cervera proves a master of the slow build, skilfully ratcheting up the intensity of the atmosphere by tiny degrees, to the point where Valeria’s paranoia is practically palpable. Similarly, the script does a terrific job of drip-feeding background information on Valeria, through carefully placed flashbacks, so that we slowly understand that her reluctance to be pregnant – in contrast to her stated desires – might be related to other factors.

The increasingly creepy atmosphere is further heightened by Garza Cervera’s repeated use of bone imagery (tying in with the titular myth), as well as some highly effective sound design work, beginning with Valeria’s habit of cracking her own knuckles and escalating to much larger, nastier bone-cracking sounds. Garza Cerva also knows how to deploy a great jump scare, not least in a key sequence involving a spooky neighbour, a moment that is pure nightmare fuel.

Natalia Solien is utterly mesmerising in the lead role, delivering a powerfully emotional, haunted turn that buries deep under your skin. Similarly, Alfonso Dosal is excellent as Raul, undergoing his own subtle journey, whereby he’s initially supportive and sympathetic, but you gradually realise that that’s only the case when he’s getting what he wants.

In addition, there’s strong support from Mercedes Hernández, whose warm-hearted presence isn’t as reassuring as it first appears, and from Mayra Batalla as Octavia, Valeria’s former close friend, whose reappearance in her life triggers memories of when they were carefree punk activists together, loudly protesting against conventional domesticity.

Admittedly, the dialogue can be a little on the nose (“When you become a mother, you feel as though you’re splitting in two”, Valeria is told) and there are elements of the climax that don’t entirely convince, but those are minor niggles in what is otherwise an accomplished feature debut that’s worthy of a place alongside other motherhood horror greats like The Babadook, Rosemary’s Baby and Hereditary. It also marks out Garza Cervera as a serious horror talent to watch.

**** 4/5

Huesera: The Bone Woman is available on digital platforms now, courtesy of XYZ Films.


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