In Michelle Garza Cervera’s terrifying and transfixing debut feature, a pregnant woman battles visions of a demoness who threatens her body and mind.
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By Natalia Winkelman
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Ever since I saw “Huesera,” the captivating horror film from the Mexican director Michelle Garza Cervera, at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, I haven’t been able to shake its images from my mind. Both a quintessential horror crowd-pleaser and an exceptionally specific deconstruction of the trials of pregnancy, the film offers a portrait of Valeria (Natalia Solián), a furniture maker in Mexico City, as she transitions into a life of domesticity.
The story begins as Valeria, accompanied by her mother and aunt, ascends a staircase toward a towering golden statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe to appeal for a child with her husband, Raúl (Alfonso Dosal). Her prayers are soon answered, and the couple begins a long stretch of medical appointments and home refashioning as they anticipate the baby’s arrival.
For our protagonist, the new chapter also presents some strife. Her sister sneers at Valeria’s lack of maternal instincts. Raúl is reluctant to have sex for fear of harming the fetus. And Valeria must give up her vocation to convert her workshop into the infant’s room. Power tools and baby-proofing don’t exactly mix.
But even graver threats are approaching. Soon into the pregnancy, Valeria envisions a bony demoness who creeps in the darkness and scurries away the moment Valeria attempts to alert others to her presence. Whether the tormentor is an evil spirit or a prenatal hallucination is beside the point; no matter her form, we recognize that she is a menace to Valeria’s mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
Valeria finds solace from the dread with a former girlfriend who awakens memories of her onetime nonconformist lifestyle — in the film’s only flashback, we see the pair as teens running from the police while chanting, “I don’t like domestication!” — and their renewed bond reinforces for Valeria the sense that motherhood is as much about loss as it is about gain.
In her first feature, Garza Cervera admirably wields all of cinema’s tools to assemble her story: The sound design, heavy on snaps and cracks, is sharply anxious, and the cinematography makes moody use of mirrors, shadows and color. Dialogue is employed economically, and in the film’s most majestic set piece, speaking halts altogether in favor of careful rhythms of editing and chilling group choreography. “Huesera” is the type of staggering supernatural nightmare that is as transfixing as it is terrifying.
Huesera: The Bone Woman
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. In theaters.
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