Huesera: The Bone Woman (Shudder, NR)

When we first meet Valeria (Natalia Solián), she’s climbing the steps to a shrine where she receives a blessing directed toward her reproductive organs. She’s happily married to Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), admires other people’s kids, and is ensconced in a comfortable middle-class existence, so the only thing lacking in her life is a baby of her own. Coincidentally or otherwise, Valeria is soon pregnant, and that’s when things start to get weird.

Valeria, who pre-pregnancy worked as a carpenter and hung out with a punk crowd, finds herself completely subsumed in the role of pregnant woman (that we see her converting her shop to a nursery is a perhaps a bit on the nose but does express how completely her life has changed). In the process of shedding her old life and taking up the new, she becomes disoriented and separated from herself, and finds no understanding for what she’s going through. Her husband, previously warm and loving toward her, is now only concerned with the fetus she is carrying, while her family uses the excuse of her pregnancy to bring up old failings and pre-judge her as an incompetent mother. Her habit of cracking her knuckles intensifies, and both husband and mother address her as a child being naughty rather than as an adult suffering from anxiety.

She also has disturbing visions—a woman failing to her death in the courtyard, a ghastly monster crawling across the floor, her own bones breaking for no reason. She’s also subject to auditory hallucinations, often in the form of bones crunching and snapping along the lines of the transformation scenes in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981). Raúl, who is only interested in his version of reality, becomes impatient with one false alarm after another, as if wondering who stole his cheerful and compliant wife and slipped in this troublesome imposter in her place. She visits a traditional healer, who delivers a spooky diagnosis but declines to perform the ritual that might solve it.

A few people do help. Octavia (Mayra Batalla), a friend from her punk days, criticizes Valeria’s turn to the bourgeois but also offers genuine empathy and assistance. Valeria’s aunt, something of a family outsider, giver her the straight dope: “When you become pregnant you feel like you are split in two” while in labor “You’ll literally feel like you are breaking!” When everyone else wants to pretend that things are going just fine, words of truth are always welcome even if they sound harsh to those outside the situation.

Pregnancy is a body-altering, mind-altering experience that carries serious risks even if the best medical care is available (and even if your husband hasn’t literally sold your body to the devil). It’s also a social experience, one which the pregnant individual may find changes their relationships with other adults in bizarre ways: total strangers may take the opportunity to criticize or offer intrusive “advice” while family members may forget that a pregnant person is still a person, not simply a device through which a child will be born.

Huesera: The Bone Woman, directed and co-written (with Abia Castillo) by Michelle Garza Cervera, is a body horror film that relies more on suggestion and psychology than on explicit graphics. Viewing it, you’ll often not be sure whether something you see on screen is actually happening in the world of the characters, whether it’s a product of Valeria’s mind, or whether it’s a cinematic metaphor for what she’s feeling and experiencing. To my mind, that makes it a stronger film, but viewers looking for something along the lines of David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) may become impatient waiting for the explicit payoff to arrive (trust me, it does, and it’s worth waiting for). | Sarah Boslaugh

Huesera: The Bone Woman is available for streaming on Shudder.

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