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Shudder Secrets: Huesera: The Bone Woman Explained

Horror movies have long addressed fears of motherhood and pregnancy. Rosemary’s Baby, It’s Alive, and The Brood are a few classic examples. More recent features include Prevenge, False Positive, and Clock. Huesera: The Bone Woman follows this long and storied tradition. Directed and co-written by Michelle Garza Cervera, the Mexican film uses the myth of La Huesera (the bone woman) to address a young woman’s serious reservations about becoming a mother and surrendering her passions and individuality all in the name of domestication.

Thanks in part to Natalia Solián‘s gripping performance as mother-to-be Valeria, Huesera: The Bone Woman is a riveting and smart feature. It tackles motherhood, patriarchy, and trying to maintain one’s sense of self. The monster at the heart of the film is a springboard to explore deeper fears.

Huesera’s Portrayal of Motherhood

From the get-go, the feature centers motherhood as its main theme. In the opening minutes, we see a number of women climbing steep stairs to pray to a massive golden statue of the Virgin Mary. Valeria also makes this trek. Once at the top, she has her womb blessed at the feet of the golden statue. This opening scene is key because it showcases how important the very notion of motherhood is in Mexican culture. All of these women climb these endless stairs to have their wombs blessed. They pray for a baby.

This opening also shows the influence of Catholicism in Mexico and the general importance of the Virgin Mary as the one who gave birth to Christ. There are moments when the statue nearly occupies the entire frame. It also looms over Valeria as a towering presence, and there’s a moment when the camera pulls back, showing just how massive the statue is, symbolic of how large the very idea of motherhood looms in Valeria’s life.

This opening then cuts to a scene of Valeria and her husband Raul (Alfonso Dosal) having sex, which ultimately leads to Valeria’s pregnancy. This scene then transitions to a moment when Valeria is on the playground, watching the various children and smiling. It hints that she’s at the very least entertaining the thought of becoming a mother.

Valeria’s Sacrifices in the Name of Motherhood

The editing in this film really deserves major props. The way the film is cut and transitions from scene to scene underscores who Valeria used to be and who she’s becoming, a mother whose needs and desires become secondary to that of the baby and her husband. The moment after Valeria smiles to children on the playground, the film shifts to another scene, this time highlighting Valeria’s workshop. She makes her own furniture. However, she ultimately sacrifices her workshop for the baby’s room. She literally takes her tools off the wall and packs them in the closet. Raul even says at one point, “Goodbye, workshop.”

Further, in the past, Valeria used to be an artistic punk rocker who had a thing with the wild and rebellious Octavia (Mayra Batalla). At one point, Raul and Valeria encounter Octavia during a ride home from a Mother’s Day outing. Octavia is another reminder of Valeria’s past, which she doesn’t want to sacrifice. Octavia notes that Valeria seems different. During a few close-ups of Valeria’s face, it’s evident she has tears in her eyes. She hasn’t seen Octavia in years, a woman from a meaningful past relationship, but also a reminder of who Valeria used to be and that very notion of freedom.

In a flashback that comes later, we see Valeria as a teen or young 20-something. This flashback fleshes out the relationship between the two women, but there’s also a moment where Valeria, along with her friends, scream, “I don’t like domestication.” Everything Valeria detested, she’s slowly becoming, and she knows it. It’s why seeing Octavia is so painful for her.

Even worse, none of her family members are convinced she’ll be a good mother. During the Mother’s Day visit, her sister Vero (Sonia Couoh) expresses skepticism that Valeria should be left alone to babysit her kids. She recounts a story in which Valeria babysat a neighbor’s kid and dropped the baby down the stairs. Everyone laughs. No wonder the poor woman has serious doubts about motherhood. Her family isn’t exactly 100 percent supportive.

The Myth of the Bone Woman Explained

The figure of the bone woman plays a major role in the film. Early on, Valeria watches a woman jump out a window, only to survive the fall and make eye contact with Valeria. Throughout the rest of the film, she’s haunted by this presence. Is it a force for good or evil? That’s open for interpretation. However, the myth of the bone woman is important here as it relates to Valeria’s story and the very challenge of a nuclear family.

La Huesera tells of a woman who gathered bones in the desert, assembled them into a skeleton, and sang until a wolf came to life. The wolf eventually transforms into a woman who runs free, towards the horizon. I read the myth as a story of a woman’s absolute freedom and an indestructible life force. In this case, the bone woman could represent Valeria’s past and rebellious, youthful spirit, which she gives up while becoming a mom and because Raul demands it. The bone woman, in this case, represents the freedom she truly desires.

There are also not-so-subtle links between the bone woman and Valeria. She constantly cracks her knuckles and her back. The sound design, like the editing, is another major positive. Whenever she starts to crack her knuckles in front of Raul, he immediately stops it. I view this as yet another indication that he stifles her voice and creativity, her power and agency. Meanwhile, late in the film, when she tells him about the creature, he labels her hysterical. There’s even talk of having her institutionalized. This also is nothing new. Labeling women as hysterical has deep roots in film and literature. Just think of “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Huesera: The Bone Woman is a potent film that uses a Mexican myth to tap into fears about motherhood. Valeria is a woman who doesn’t want to sacrifice her artistic and creative nature to stay at home and be a mom. The editing and sound design especially reinforce her anxieties, and the bone woman here becomes emblematic of a woman’s freedom and agency.

The feature will stream on Shudder beginning May 12. Keep updated on the streaming service’s newest content by following my Shudder Secrets column.