Huesera: The Bone Woman

(Michelle Garza Cervera, Mexico/Peru, 2022)

BY MARGARET BARTON-FUMO | February 10, 2023

Often considered a sacred rite of passage, pregnancy is an aspirational, much-coveted physical state for women the world over. For many, it’s the most significant time of their life, with the act of childbirth representing the apex of that experience—a necessary gauntlet in the path to motherhood. But for others, pregnancy and childbirth is nothing short of excruciating horror—an alien possession leading up to a bloody and extremely painful physical rending. There is indeed something strange and unnatural about giving birth—following a gradual period of gestation, the baby forces its mother’s body to bend and break so that it can emerge into the world safely, leaving a mass of blood and amniotic fluid in its wake. It is intense, to say the very least, and countless films have tapped the experience as a source of terror, from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby to Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside and beyond. Michelle Garza Cervera’s Huesera: The Bone Woman is the latest of such outings, adding a ghostly specter to the growing subgenre of pregnancy horror.

Garza Cervera attempts something a bit different in Huesera by giving us a complex protagonist who has mixed feelings about her pregnancy. Valeria (Natalia Solián), a talented carpenter and furniture maker married to an avant-garde musician, Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), comes from a stark political background. Formerly a lesbian punk who raged against domesticity and the atomic family, she now spends her time building a crib for her unborn baby daughter. Remnants of her past are hidden away in a cardboard box, including political pamphlets and a drawing of the female reproductive system strung up on a cross. But in this seemingly tamer present, where she finds herself crocheting a baby blanket and painting the nursery pastel colors, Valeria and her husband aren’t entirely secure, and she’s drawn into an affair with her ex, the curly-haired, edgy Octavia (Mayra Batalla). Neither partner is especially supportive once Valeria starts experiencing terrifying hallucinations—Raúl considers having her committed, while Octavia is hopelessly confused. Valeria must instead turn to her lone-wolf aunt Isabel (Mercedes Hernández), a fascinating woman with connections to witchcraft who intrinsically understands Valeria’s fraught situation.

Valeria’s relationship with her unborn daughter is certainly unorthodox. The young mother-to-be seems to desire a baby but does not believe it exists while in utero, adding to her fear of possession by an unknown being. Haunted by a figure who unnaturally bends and cracks its own bones, Valeria submits to a dangerous occult ritual in order to rid herself of the encroaching spirit. Throughout the film, Garza Cervera builds an impressively eerie atmosphere with few dramatic scares, allowing time for her capable lead to convey her overwhelming fear from deep inside. Yet scenes within subcultures appear on the nose, with vibrant Mexican punk music blasting in underground clubs and a host of eccentric but well-cast characters populating the neighborhood curandera’s witchy home base. Atmosphere is everything in Huesera, ultimately to a slight disadvantage.

The film’s plot doesn’t add up to a whole lot, with a few threads left unraveled by its end, which is not so much open as it is muddled, finishing hurriedly after a spooky and performative, dance-influenced ritual sequence. The politics of Huesera are similarly confused, projecting mixed messages about lesbianism and motherhood that are never quite resolved. But Garza Cervera has been deservedly lauded for raising uncommon, prickly questions, even if many of them are left unanswered. Poking holes in the supposedly preternatural connection between an expectant mother and her unborn child is a bold move—one that the first-time feature director makes with assurance and style. 🩸


is the host of “No Pussyfooting,” an online radio show on She is the editor of Paul Verhoeven: Interviews (UPM) and has contributed to Film Comment since 2006.

X: @MarBarFu

How to see Huesera: The Bone Woman

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