Huesera: The Bone Woman movie review (2023)

Val’s a rebel, you see, with an anti-authoritarian punk rock past and an ex-girlfriend named Ursula (Martha Claudia Moreno) who provides a tempting alternative to Val’s domesticated new life. (In a flashback scene, a teenage Val and her friends run from the cops, screaming, “I don’t like domestication!”—if only she could see herself now.) The idea that, from now on, she’s a “Mama” first and a person second clearly bothers Val. She doesn’t take naturally to anything maternal, and her family’s teasing about the time she dropped a neighbor boy while babysitting exacerbates her feeling that there’s something broken inside of her. It’s hard to say whether Val’s anxiety about her life choices or the terrifying visions of death and injury come first, but they definitely rise in tandem with one another. 

This theme combines with a body-horror approach to the physical changes that come with pregnancy, along with a possession/exorcism narrative that makes a monster out of postpartum psychosis. All of these elements are needed to carry the film: None of them are strong enough to shoulder “Huesera” on their own, and the story’s momentum does start to fade once all the relevant puzzle pieces have been laid out. Luckily, Cervera brings “Huesera” back around with a knockout, hallucinatory sequence towards the end of the movie, featuring a corps of what the credits call “Ballerinas Huesero” whose limbs bend at frightening, unnatural angles. 

“Huesero” is Spanish for “bonesetter,” a type of folk healer who specializes in mending and setting broken bones. The imagery here is more of the breaking kind—if you find bones sticking out of flesh upsetting, this film may make you woozy—but the title suggests that perhaps Val has to be broken before she can be put back together again. The very end of the movie puts a provocative twist on the premise that shouldn’t be spoiled here, but reinforces Cervera’s bold, unabashed point of view. Sometimes, the only way out is through. 

Now playing in theaters and available on VOD on February 16th.

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