HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN movie poster | ©2023 XYZ Films

HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN movie poster | ©2023 XYZ Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Natalia Solián, Alfonso Dosal, Mayra Batalla, Mercedes Hernández, Sonia Couoh, Aída López, Anahí Allué, Martha Claudia Moreno, Emilram Cossío
Writers: Michelle Garza Cervera & Abia Castillo
Director: Michelle Garza Cervera
Distributor: XYZ Films
Release Date: February 10, 2023 (theatrical); February 16, 2023 (VOD)

HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN is a movie good enough to maintain its ambiguity without either patronizing or frustrating the audience.

The Spanish-language, Mexican/Peruvian-made HUESERA begins at the site of an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary, which towers over the nearby trees. This is a (real) shrine where worshippers come, singing the “Hail Mary” prayer. Valeria (Natalia Solián), a young Mexican woman accompanied by her supportive aunt Chabela (Mercedes Hernández), is here to pray for fertility.

Then we cut to a darkened room, where a cloaked figure is on fire.

And then we’re with Natalia and her husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), making love in bed. They are happy, trying for a baby. A visit to the obstetrician confirms they’ve been successful.

Valeria is craftsperson who makes furniture. Raúl has been a musician, though more recently, he’s gone into advertising. They seem to be doing well.

But on Mother’s Day, when the couple break their good news to the family, Valeria’s sister Vero (Sonia Couoh) teases her hard about a bad babysitting incident in the past. Vero declares that Valeria isn’t “a kid person” and perhaps shouldn’t be a mother. This of course doesn’t go over well, though Raúl dismisses it as “just messing around.”

Back home, Valeria looks out the window to see a woman in the building across the way jump to the courtyard below, smashing her legs so that the broken bones stick at unnatural angles out of the skin. But when Valeria tries to show Raúl, the woman is no longer there.

The woman comes back, repeatedly, more destructive each time, but never in a way that Valeria can prove to other adults. Whether she is suffering from depression so severe that it’s causing hallucinations, or whether there is an actual malevolent presence, it’s clear that Valeria and perhaps those around her are in grave peril.

Director Michelle Garza Cervera and her co-writer Abia Castillo make HUESERA equal parts character study and horror film. We flash back to Valeria’s youth and previous relationships, which greatly inform her present.

The film is helped immeasurably by Solián, who conveys hope and anguish with enormous power. Some of Valeria’s behavior might make us lose patience with her, but Solián is so sincere in her multilayered fear that we wind up feeling compassion.

Folk medicine (if not outright witchcraft) is presented as a part of life in HUESERA. Characters may embrace, avoid, or ignore it, but nobody seems to think it’s absurd, which saves the characters and the movie (and us) a lot of time.

Dark but not so shadowy that we can’t see, tense but not alienating, HUESERA is an unconventional look at its subject matter. Gradually, HUESERA reveals itself to have much more on its mind than what we might expect from the set-up. Discussing this aspect is spoilery, but it is uncommon in this genre. What we do expect, and what we satisfyingly receive, is a genuine sense of dread, in a thoughtful context.

In Spanish, with subtitles.

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