Huesera: The Bone Woman (Peru/Mexico, 2022)
Huesera: The Bone Woman was one of the first films to go on my list this year. While I knew very few details about it, the general buzz I’d seen online looked interesting. It also came highly recommended by Juan Diego Escobar Alzate, director of Luz: The Flower of Evil, one of my favourite films of last year’s challenge. And given how many of my favourite horror films of recent years have come out of Latin America, I’m always keen to see more.
Huesera: The Bone Woman is currently available on Shudder in the UK.
Valeria, a carpenter and former punk rock artist, lives in Mexico City with her partner Raúl. We are introduced to them as they are trying to conceive their first child together. While it seems obvious from the way Valeria looks at children in the playground that she desperately wants to be a mother, her family seem dubious about her maternal instincts. Her sister, especially, dismisses her mockingly, based on Valeria’s poor skills when dealing with other people’s children. Only her witchy aunt seems at all supportive.
Once Valeria becomes pregnant, she starts experiencing visions of faceless people straight out of Jacob’s Ladder, whose jerky movements are accompanied by the clicks and cracks of broken bones. This echoes her own nervous habit of clicking her bones, especially those in her fingers.
Valeria starts losing weight, imperilling her pregnancy. Her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, distancing her from everyone around her. Her relationship with Raúl becomes particularly strained, especially when Valeria reconnects with her former girlfriend from happier times.
A seer warns Valeria that she is in the clutches of a sinister maternal spirit, a spiderlike predator. But is Valeria really under a supernatural curse? Or is she struggling with her own identity, missing the freedom she had as a young punk, pining for her ex-girlfriend? And will the purportedly dangerous ritual her aunt and her coven propose resolve either of these conflicts?
I was unfamiliar with the legend of La Huesera, so of course I had to look it up. Apparently, the eponymous bone woman lived in the desert, gathering bones. She used them to build herself a wolf and brought it to life by whistling to it.
Valeria doesn’t collect bones — instead, she seems to have a problematic relationship with them. She cracks her fingers constantly and experiences cramps that feel like bones breaking. When she encounters supernatural entities, they have broken bones, sometimes protruding from their flesh. While this is a powerful motif, any connection to the folk tale eludes me.
As an aside, the foley work on the cracking bones is exceptional. It creates a real sense of discomfort whenever Valeria sees one of these faceless entities, or when her own skeleton turns against her.
For all the supernatural window dressing, Huesera: The Bone Woman cleaves far closer to psychological horror. Valeria’s disintegrating grip on reality echoes countless such stories, dating back to “The Yellow Wallpaper” and beyond, particularly in the dismissive way she is treated by the people who should be caring for her.
Raúl is quick to explain away everything Valeria sees, making it clear that her fears are a burden to him and their unborn child. Valeria’s family see her as erratic, berating her when she tries to explain what is happening. Even her doctor discusses giving Valeria antidepressants with Raúl and Valeria’s mother, ignoring Valeria herself. She is convinced to give up carpentry, her passion, for fear of injuring her unborn child. Ultimately, Valeria’s role is reduced to one of foetus carrier, and an inconvenient one at that. The overall effect is suffocating.
Huesera: The Bone Woman is a film I admired more than enjoyed. It offers an imaginative exploration of the anxieties of motherhood and of trying to conform to societal expectations, filtered through the lens of supernatural horror. Everything about it is beautifully realised, with fantastic dialogue and characters, and some genuinely creepy moments. Yet, ultimately, I found it difficult to connect with the film on any emotional level.
A large part of this is almost certainly because I am not a parent, let alone a mother. I imagine direct experience of the kinds of struggles Valeria goes through with would turn this into a much more visceral form of horror. Without that connection, however, the resolution to Valeria’s problems just feels anticlimactic. And while there is emotional turmoil in the final decision she makes, it also negates any real sense of the supernatural horror we might have thought we were watching.
I’ll offer a cautious recommendation, but set your expectations accordingly. Huesera: The Bone Woman is very much horror as allegory, in the style of The Babadook. But unlike The Babadook, it doesn’t really feel like it wants to be a horror film. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it might frustrate viewers who thought they were getting something else.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!