Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Wonderfully uncomfortable." | Photo: Nur Rubio

For the most part, purveyors of body horror in the movies do not have much experience of it themselves. Seriously ill and disabled people get little opportunity to make films. Most genre directors, still, are male. Pregnancy is something else. Whether they go through it themselves or not, most women know something of the deep rooted fear associated with being inhabited by a parasite, of part of the body going away and becoming part of a separate being. If they find it easy to dismiss, there’s a reason for that which is potentially even scarier: chemical mind control. Sure, we need it to continue as a species. Sure, many people consider the experience worthwhile, or even enjoyable. But when that mind control breaks down, exposing the truth in all its perversity, it’s no surprise that pregnant individuals can start to come apart at the seams.

This is the subtext, and sometimes the meat, of Michelle Garza Cervera’s wonderfully uncomfortable Huesera. It’s subtitled ‘The Bone Woman’ in English, but translates literally as ‘the bone maker’, which throws a slightly different slant on things – especially when it comes to the key question of whether heroine Valeria (Natalia Solián) is being stalked by some external horror or is haunting herself. The spectre of pregnancy-induced psychosis looms large for a woman who is already treated as an outsider, or as difficult, by those closest to her, and Cervera keeps us guessing while ensuring that we recognise the horror of the experience regardless of its origin.

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“When it comes to birth you physically feel like your bones are breaking,” says Valeria’s aunt in a misguided attempt to console her by showing solidarity. Valeria gets told off for cracking her knuckles. Teeth tear scraps of chicken from a bone. Knitting needles click. Those little sounds and rhythms are everywhere as Valeria begins to experience terrifying hallucinations – or perhaps to see something real. Simple effects are brought to life by dancers, contorting bodies in unnatural-looking ways to emphasise how Valeria feels about her own body. Others who have had easier journeys refuse to take her seriously. Doctors tell her that all this is normal, which might be worse. Her pregnancy is alienating by nature, both physically and psychically.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that Valeria is queer, and a punk, and once enjoyed a highly independent, albeit impoverished, way of living. She has settled for an approved way of life with partner Raúl (Alfonso Dosal) and sweet as he is, it’s not clear that this is right for her at all, or that he would love her if she weren’t constantly deforming her spirit in an attempt to conform. An encounter with old flame Octavia (Mayra Batalla) forces her to question these efforts to reshape herself, and adds to the pressure, though it also suggests a possible means of escape. The real problem is that Valeria wants her baby, and reconciling that with the bodily and social horrors she’s going through is a difficult task. As the tension builds, one increasingly gets the sense that if she can’t manage it then either she or the baby, or perhaps both, will die.

Despite a well developed central idea and a strong aesthetic, the film runs into trouble in places, with scenes of conflict between highly strung characters sometimes starting to feel like a soap opera and Raúl’s constant refusal to believe Valeria becoming tedious. The family dynamics don’t always ring true, especially where children are concerned. As such, it’s most likely to appeal to those with additional reasons to relate to its heroine (who wiill probably also love the soundtrack). It feels rushed in places, less confident when inhabiting more conventional spaces, but it should certainly draw attention to Cervera, whose previous short The Original demonstrated that she has the audacity and the talent to deliver consistently interesting work.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb 2023
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Huesera packshot
Valeria has long dreamed about becoming a mother. After learning that she’s pregnant, she expects to feel happy, yet something’s off. Nightmarish visions and an unshakeable paranoia have her questioning what she wants, and an ancient evil spirit may be the cause.
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Director: Michelle Garza Cervera

Writer: Michelle Garza Cervera, Abia Castillo

Starring: Alfonso Dosal, Samantha Castillo, Martha Claudia Moreno, Mayra Batalla, Sonia Couoh, Aida López, Pablo Guisa Koestinger, Mercedes Hernández, Enoc Leaño, Anahí Allué, Natalia Solián, Gabriela Velarde

Year: 2022

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Peru, Mexico

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