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Huesera: A feminist take on the body horror of pregnancy

Michella Garza Cervera’s directorial debut is a slow burn that shines brightly, asking difficult questions about motherhood.

Screenshot 2022 11 08 at 15 21 40
XYZ Films

Demon babies are a mainstay in body horror films, but Michelle Garza Cervera’s Huesera is a more considered piece on motherhood and childbirth.

The director’s take on the body horror of giving birth is a slow burn that shines brightly. Valeria appears happily pregnant, but during the course of her pregnancy she confronts her expectations of adulthood and clashes with societal pressures of exemplary motherhood from her partner, family and in-laws.

Her family in particular recounts an instance from her teenage years when she dropped a baby she was taking care of down the stairs. Her family are teasing, but there’s an edge that Valeria picks up on – they’re questioning her ability to keep her baby safe.

The sound design throughout the film crackles, demanding attention as Cervera curates a series of snaps that sound like bones creaking, breaking and snapping under pressure. Valeria nervously cracks her fingers, and this sound is repeated as her baby’s crib snaps, as she has visions of broken bones and as her body contorts in the bath like a snapping spider.

Screenshot 2022 11 08 at 15 21 55
XYZ Films

Valeria’s body is no longer her own. She’s losing weight, she’s having hallucinations and grows increasingly erratic. She feels the only person who understands her is her former lover Octavia. A flashback from her time as Octavia’s girlfriend as a teenager comes in the middle of the film and reveals much about the forces ravaging Valeria’s body. The breaking of bones and the coming apart of her body are as much a reaction to the conventions of her adult life dragging discordantly against her teenage expectations.

As a youth, Valeria listened to punk music, dressed as a punk, made plans with her girlfriend and eschewed convention. As an adult, she gives up her beloved carpentry, moves into a flat with her boyfriend and appears happy to be pregnant.

Cervera spins a tale that brings forward the macabre elements of pregnancy and childbirth. Many other horror films use the idea of a demon baby taking over its host's body. But here the terror comes from how Valeria must reconsider her own body now that she houses a baby inside it. Huesera is a feminist portrayal of a process which many people who are pregnant must reckon with: how to retain your body and mind when they exist under the strain of childbirth.

Natalia Solián, who plays Valeria, takes us on an emotionally turbulent and complex journey. It would have been easy for Huesera to lean into jump-scare body horror. Instead, it’s a considered film which makes the most of the slow body horror that is pregnancy. We see Valeria reckon with the reality of her life and turn to her aunt’s healer friends, who immediately recognise her struggle for agency and turn to witchcraft as a solution.

Huesera is an intelligent film which asks difficult questions about agency, motherhood and pain – and doesn’t offer any easy answers.

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Huesera screened at Celluloid Screams 2022.

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