Read Chad Collins’ review out of Tribeca.
The best horror reflects the human condition. It grapples with the quotidian, unremarkable feats of daily life and renders them monstrous. Buckets of blood, fractured bones, and perennial hauntings give way to profound insight into what it means to simply exist. Michelle Garza Cervera’s Huesera is a heartrending, painful account of new motherhood. It opens with a cryptic pilgrimage to a gilded statue atop a mountain. Through the prayers, chants, and hidden whispers, some cosmic force has shifted, and shortly thereafter, Valeria (Natalia Solián) is pregnant.
Cervera tracks a lineage of micro-traumas in the early days. Valeria’s family is dismissive at best and outright hostile at first, grappling with the reconciliation that the punk Valeria might have what it takes to be a mother. There is a stark generational divide between mothers and sisters, a cultural gatekeeping of who can—and should—be permitted to give life to another. It’s painful and austerely uncomfortable. Though there is respite in Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), her husband and the baby’s father, and Valeria’s work in designing the nursery. She installs wallpaper, crafts a crib from scratch, and through her creaking, tired bones, emanates maternal devotion.
Something isn’t quite right, however. Huesera’s most explicit genre elements abound in the early half as Valeria is besieged by visions, assaults, and appearances of a ghostly woman, the titular La Huesera (the bone woman). The story tells of an old woman who gathers bones to create life. While the haunting remains peripheral, Valeria endures conventional skepticism from those around her. Bodies she sees disappear, and at one point, a fright is expectedly blamed on wind from an open window. Cervera’s scares might be borrowed, though the stellar sound work– fractured, snapping bones, creaking with the force of an old house– instill a visceral, painful chill.
Huesera grows more aloof, and considerably more troubling, as it progresses. There are shades of maternal guilt, repressed queerness, and incompatibility with a maternal lifestyle that shackles more than it frees. There are cultural, familial, intimate, and even supernatural forces consigning Valeria to a life she may not want, at least not on the terms it’s been presented to her with. Occult magic is an easy cure, and while the rituals remain opaque, Huesera’s scares are grounded in regional specificity that distinguishes it from sundry other haunted woman parables.
As Huesera speeds toward its reasonably cryptic conclusion, the body horror intensifies even as narrative rationality flounders. It gets very, very weird. While it isn’t always clear what’s going on, the nexus of Valeria’s trauma and pain resonates. Lost love, mournful responsibilities, and an oppressive, hegemonic ideal of motherhood imbue the ghosts and slamming doors with enough to overcome some of the more conventional scare tactics.
While Huesera is unlikely to be the next breakout horror hit, it’s a sterling calling card for Cervera and its cast. The scares land, the heartache pulses, and at times, it feels like a poignant insight into a life all too common. Huesera embodies the best of rich, specific horror fare, a movie patched together from some of the best to resemble something altogether new and deeply, profoundly personal.
Huesera is haunting and culturally rich, announcing Michelle Garza Cervera as a bold new voice in horror.