Huesera: Review of The Boney Woman: A Mexican Pregnancy Horror Story

Michelle Garza Cervera’s debut feature is a tense reminder of why parenthood isn’t for everyone.

It’s never a good sign when you hire a holistic exorcist and the first thing they say is “you’re screwed”. It’s scary enough to have a problem that modern medicine can’t solve, but at least you know witchcraft is a backup plan. But when your illness overwhelms three older Mexican ladies practicing ancient magic in a hidden room, you’re basically screwed.

Valeria (Natalie Solian) finds herself in this awkward position, but by then the young mother has been through too much to be particularly bothered by it. After all, pregnancy complications are only par for the course in “Huesera: The Bone Woman.” Michelle Garza Cervera’s feature debut is a slow-burning, meticulous exploration of all the things big and small that can go wrong during the miracle of childbirth—and right after. While the film’s mythology draws heavily from traditional Mexican folklore, its primary theme is universal: the joys of parenthood are not for everyone.

On paper, Valeria is entering the happiest period of her life. After trying for several months with her loving husband Raul (Alfonso Dosal), she finally becomes pregnant with their first child. They seem to have everything they need to start a successful family: a nice home, stable finances, genuine love for each other and plenty of close relatives to help. And Valeria and Raul seem like such nice, sane, intelligent people that any child would be lucky to have as parents. To everyone else, they are exactly the kind of people they are should have a child.

But as the pregnancy begins to progress, the veil is quickly lifted as the unpleasant reality sets in. Valeria doesn’t take well to her doctor’s suggestion that she quit making furniture until the baby is born – because of the chemicals she uses. It might be hard, but it’s not good to completely deprive yourself of your passion. And while it’s good in theory to be surrounded by grandmothers and aunts who can babysit, the news of Valeria’s pregnancy only elicited condescension and passive-aggressive snooping from all female relatives. No one seems to believe that Valeria is ready to be a good mother, but no one is offering much help.

So when Valeria is physically unwell and constantly anxious, everyone just calls her a challenging pregnancy that she probably wasn’t meant to be. This makes them even less willing to believe her when she starts hallucinating dangerous intruders in her home. When her doctor and husband do not help, she begins to search for alternative forms of treatment. And it’s a good thing he did, because it turns out Valeria is possessed by—you guessed it—the bony woman!

For generations, Mexican grandmothers have spoken of an “unnamed witch” who haunts women who are ill-adjusted to the demands of motherhood. This witch causes eerie hallucinations while Valeria is pregnant, and becomes more menacing when the baby is born and she doesn’t feel the overwhelming joy everyone promised her. As her pastel-hued nursery feels more and more like a hellish prison, Valeria finally decides to risk everything to go through with a dangerous exorcism.

Modern audiences will immediately recognize that the “witch” these people speak of actually has many names – such as postpartum depression, or even the simple fact that not everyone is cut out for family life. But it is also easy to understand why such a myth was created. In an era when women were told that parenthood was their only option and were promised that their maternal instincts were guaranteed to create family happiness, it was more comforting to believe that outliers were the victims of a monster than a needlessly inflexible system.

Cervera deserves credit for turning an old wives’ tale into a compelling body horror, and his decision to treat a thinly veiled metaphor as a literal monster gives the film a coherent theme without devolving into a morality play. While the pacing will be too slow for some—Cervera makes some terrifying images, but he probably didn’t need to save them all at the last minute—”Huesera: The Bone Woman” remains a highly competent debut feature. It’s a chilling reminder that when something feels off, you should listen to your gut. And failing that, you have to listen to the aunt who has connections to the exorcism scene in Mexico City.

grade: B

XYZ Films will release “Huesera: The Bone Woman” in select theaters on Friday, February 10th, followed by a VOD release on Thursday, February 16th.

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