Fantastic Fest Review: Huesera

Motherhood told in splintered bones and fractured identity

Huesera

Horror is a genre for women: from final girls to the oft-disbelieved women who, by movie’s end, are proven to have been right all along.

Not only is it the genre that most frequently and accurately depicts the maddening anxieties of impossible expectations, stolen bodily autonomy, and constant invalidation – it’s also the rare genre where women consistently fight back, kick ass, and take vengeance. Mexican maternity horror Huesera follows in this tradition.

Translating to “ossuary,” or a depository for the bones of the dead, Huesera is a graveyard of identity. The story follows Valeria (Natalia Solián), a young woman who has recently become pregnant. Her husband, Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), is thrilled, and so is Valeria. But the patriarchal trappings of motherhood quickly eat away at that excitement, leaving in its place a deepening sense of dread and the pervasive feeling of being cursed. Piece by piece, she’s asked to give away pieces of herself: her workshop, her passion for carpentry, even her sexual desire (“what if we hurt the baby?”).

Valeria’s options, however, appear limited. Abortion seems to be out – Catholic imagery and practices are heavily referenced throughout – and nearly everyone around her lives a traditional lifestyle, with the exception of still-single Aunt Isabel (Mercedes Hernández), who is openly derided by the family, referred to as a “spinster” and held up as an example of how not to live.

But Valeria herself has never been especially “traditional.” Aside from her interest in carpentry, she’s shaved her head and taken women’s boxing classes; in a flashback sequence, she discusses going to university to “follow in her brother’s footsteps,” and later we see her chanting, “I don’t like domestication!” with a group of punk-outfitted friends – including former flame Octavia (Mayra Batalla), because Valeria is also bisexual. These revelations create a picture of a life that has been splintering since well before the movie began, as every choice Valeria makes drives a new wedge between the myriad facets of herself.

Huesera delights in such metaphorical images and irreconcilable dualities. Valeria’s body is a prison, her cracking bones the rattling bars of a cage. Yet the act of popping joints and knuckles is also a means of physical restraint, with Valeria visibly shoving down her own needs beneath agreeable smiles and strained nods. Her body is often framed between the slats of a building or reflected across multiple mirror panes, visualizing the fragmentation of her warring identities and diverging futures.

All this would be enough to craft a sufficiently horrifying film on, but Huesera isn’t done yet. Something is following Valeria, something broken-bodied and inexplicable – her fears made manifest, masked in the blurred visage of an ultrasound photo ...

Huesera is a tale of motherhood told in splintered bones and fractured identity, and while its conclusion may be quieter (read: less violent) than other horror classics, it’s no less satisfying.


Huesera

Texas Premiere

Fantastic Fest runs in person Sept. 22-29, and online with FF@Home Sept. 29-Oct. 4. Tickets and passes at fantasticfest.com.

Follow all our coverage, news, reviews, and interviews at austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2022, Huesera, Michelle Garza Cervera, Natalia Solian, Alfonso Dosal, Mercedes Hernandez, Mayra Batalla

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