Making the threatened protagonist in a horror film a pregnant woman is a surefire way to double the anxiety and fear a spectator experiences. Add to that the extreme emotions and fragility a mother might experience and her possible susceptibility to imagining scary things, having feverish visions and nightmares and it is easy to see why maternity is a potent element to add to the plot of a horror feature.
“Huesera: The Bone Woman,” (which opens in theaters February 10 and goes to VOD February 16) mines the scary and sometimes dark side of maternity to chilling and occasionally shocking effect. This new Mexican film is the confident and promising debut of director and co-writer Michelle Garza Cervera, who won two prizes at Tribeca last year for it.
The film opens with a dazzling shot of a huge Virgin Mary statue with people below praying to it. Amongst them are a young couple struggling to have a child. The mother, Valeria Hernandez (Natalia Solián) finally gets pregnant, much to the delight of her husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal) and her stepmother but her own family has mixed feelings about. A bad babysitting incident from her teenage years worries them. Add to that her rebellious punk youth and possible associations with the dark magic friends of her aunt. Valeria, who has an unsettling habit of cracking her knuckles when she is worried, begins having visions of neighbors falling from balconies, injured women scuttling around the hallways of her house and intruders breaking into her home.
Flashbacks of her punk days and a passionate lesbian relationship with Octavia (Mayra Batalla) make her wonder if her marriage and pregnancy are right for her. “When you become a mother, you feel like you are split in two,” the stepmother points out.
The title refers to an old Mexican folk tale about a woman who gathers wolf bones in the desert, eventually transforming them by fire into “bone women.” Some of the spookiest and yet beautiful imagery in the film are the shots that suggest rebirth by fire. Solián gives a remarkable performance as a mother capable of both spending countless hours building exquisite baby furniture and also putting her child in shocking peril later as she wavers between reality, memory and illusion. “Huesera” is also a fascinating portrait of a variety of neighborhoods and lifestyles in present-day Mexico City, with beautiful work by cinematographer Nur Rubio Sherwll and a great soundtrack and sound design and some very cool Mexican punk rock songs.