Huesera: The Bone Woman
by Hope Madden
As Huesera: The Bone Woman opens, women climb the 640 steps leading to the world’s largest statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, located in Ocuilan, Mexico. Valeria (Natalia Solián) and her mother are among the pilgrims, their goal: a blessing leading to Valeria’s fruitful womb.
As writer/director Michelle Garza Cervera’s camera pulls back and back and back, suddenly the 108’ virgin looms like a serene-faced golden Godzilla above a woman who no longer looks so certain about her prayer.
It’s a confident opening to the entirely assured feature debut from Cervera. Her maternal nightmare is bright and decisive, pulling in common genre tropes only long enough to grant entrance to the territory of a central metaphor before casting them aside for something sinister, honest and honestly terrifying.
While it toes certain familiar ground – the gaslighting of Rosemary’s Baby, for instance – what sets Huesera apart from other maternal horror is its deliberate untidiness. Cervera refuses to embrace the good mother/bad mother dichotomy and disregards the common cinematic journey of convincing a woman that all she really wants is to be a mom.
There’s complexity and subtlety in the various relationships as well, elevating the material above standard horror fare. Valeria has real, joyous chemistry with husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal). And if he’s weak in the face of his mother’s wishes, Valeria is hardly standing up to her own mother or sister. The ways in which we all dodge family conflict feed into the writing, helping ground the larger metaphor in reality.
Solián’s performance weaves effortlessly and authentically from one family dynamic to the next, each presenting only opportunities to submit, to accept or to be ostracized and rejected. Huesera’s metaphor is brave and timely. Brave not only because of its LGBTQ themes but because of its motherhood themes. It’s a melancholy and necessary look at what you give up, what you kill.