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 This tradition is passed on to the next generation.
Translating to “ossuary,” or a depository for the bones of the dead, Huesera is a graveyard if 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. However, the patriarchal trappings and motherhood quickly take away the excitement, leaving behind a deepening feeling of dread as well as the pervasive feeling that she is 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 paint a picture that Valeria’s life has been in turmoil since before the movie started. Each choice Valeria makes creates a new divide between her many facets.
Huesera Such metaphorical images and incongruous dualities delight Valeria. Valeria’s body is a prison, her cracking bones the rattling bars of a cage. Valeria’s act of popping joints or knuckles can also be a form of physical restraint. She is seen clearly shoving her needs under strained smiles and contented nods. She often sees her body framed by the slats in a building, or reflected through multiple mirror panes. This allows her to visualize the fragmentation of her identities and futures.
It would take all this to create a terrifying film, 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.
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