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Huesera: The Bone Woman’s Revolutionary Representation Of Queer Parenthood



Feature By: Rebecca Sayce

Horror is inherently queer, with LGBTQ+ culture and genre cinema intersecting since the inception of cinema. Both behind the camera and on screen, horror has always celebrated queer artists and characters while telling stories of marginalised groups who are often shunned to the fringes of society. Despite this, the stories and anxieties of queer parents are a glaring omission not just in horror, but wider cinema as raising children is still strongly grounded in heteronormativity. But in 2022, a horror film came to our screens that offered not only traditionally chilling tropes, but a revolutionary look at queer motherhood and mental health.

Released in 2022 as the feature debut of Michelle Garza Cervera, Huesera: The Bone Woman follows the story of Valeria who appears to have it all – a loving husband, a beautiful home, her own livelihood in carpentry, and a family close by. When she and Raul find out they are expecting their first child, they couldn’t appear be happier. But soon, Valeria finds herself confronting demons both physically and metaphorically as her past bubbles to the surface and a mysterious entity threatens not just her life, but that of her unborn child.

The film begins with Valeria being reduced to a vessel and stripped of her identity as we see her, her mother Mariecarmen, and aunt Isabel journey to a gigantic statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus to pray she conceive a child. The shot tracks out as we see the full scale of the statue, swamping the family as the music and chanting around them becomes distorted. It suggests that they as individuals will be overshadowed by the arrival of a child as they slowly become invisible while the mother and child dominate the scene.

We cut to a scene between Valeria and Raul having sex, in which she looks uninterested in an uncomfortable close-up shot. It is the first sign that she is unhappy with her heteronormative lifestyle, which we further see as she goes about her day-to-day life as if on autopilot, with an expressionless face and largely unspeaking. Valeria constructs a crib in her workshop, subverting the common stereotype of the mother and housewife who cooks and cleans, as we see Raul do in the household. The workshop is the one place where she appears happy as the film begins, and a space we later learn is where she keeps the guitar, records, and books from her youth. It can be seen as a metaphorical ‘closet’ she has hidden herself in as a queer woman with the wider home representing society around her.

She finds out she is pregnant after a doctor’s visit, with her and Raul embracing. The happy moment appears odd however when you consider that she was already building a crib for the child despite not knowing she was pregnant. It could show the she is excited to become a parent, but it can also be interpreted as a comment on how the role of motherhood is often thrust upon women – whether they want it or not,  Pre-emptively building her baby’s could could represent Valeria going along with what is expected of women in society, in finding a partner, getting married, and having children. She is also seen smoking secretly after the appointment, despite knowing she could be pregnant, which suggests she is not invested in the pregnancy while also revealing to viewers the first aspect of her life she keeps hidden from her loved one.

Valeria’s identity is further stripped away from her as her pregnancy progresses with her loved ones taking decisions from her hands while she becomes increasingly silent. Raul’s mother Norma insists on buying a cot for the baby, despite Valeria saying no and her husband not respecting her wishes. During a routine scan, the doctor says she must stop carpentry due to ‘chemicals’ that could be affecting her health, and Raul enforces this despite not offering to get rid of his music room seen earlier in the film. It instils the fear rife in parents that by bringing a child into the world, you lose who you are as an individual and, further than this, the fear that Queer people feel when having a baby that it erases their LGBTQ+ identity as they appear more heteronormative among society’s standards.

After a disastrous Mother’s Day visit to Valeria’s parents, she and Raul run into Octavia. She is an old friend of Valeria’s but appears to be her polar opposite, rocking a pink streak in her wild dark hair and matching all-black clothes. Seeing her is the first time Valeria truly smiles and the first time someone asks how Valeria is feeling rather than how she is doing while pregnant, restoring her agency as an individual. The same night, Valeria’s fear of losing herself reaches a fever pitch as she sees a faceless woman leap from her balcony – a fall which does not kill her. She wakes Raul for support but instead, he does not believe what she has seen. As her encounters with the mysterious entity become more intense, Raul repeatedly dismisses her concerns and patronises her by suggesting it is her pregnancy and hormones making her confused over what she has seen. Valeria’s isolation under the weight of pregnancy and loneliness within her life overcomes her in Huesera’s iconic bath scene. She is pictured from above while naked and vulnerable, making her appear smaller in the scene and isolating her in her vast surroundings. She can also be seen to represent a foetus in the placenta, surrounded by amniotic fluid, with the scene acting as a metaphor for the worry of passing the cycle of generational trauma and societal expectations to your child.

Raul and her family’s dismissal of her supernatural encounters further enforce Valeria’s unhappiness with her everyday life, driving her to seek out comfort in her past after she discovers a box of her old belongings. A flashback shows Valeria in her teenage punk days, where she is seen with cropped, bleached hair and holding her breath underwater to win booze from her friends. She is in a relationship with Octavia, and the pair are seen passionately kissing – intimacy which she does not share with her husband. When she comes to Octavia with a dilemma, she supports her and offers her love which in turn sees Valeria in the present day seek Octavia out at her gym. They go back to Octavia’s apartment which is full of bright colours, punk posters, and demonic imagery that she displays proudly – unlike Valeria who has packed relics of her her true self into a small, discarded box. Their conversation about Octavia moving to the mountains turns into sex, which again shows far more passion than Valeria’s relationship with Raul. Her ecstasy during and after sex represents how her queer identity makes her feel as opposed to the life she is leading and the positive effect embracing who she truly is has on her mental and physical wellbeing.

As her pregnancy progresses, Valeria witnesses spiders signifying the entity terrorising her but could also be symbolic of her queer identity and fears of its erasure  by parenthood. The spider has historically represented feminine energy as well as patience and persistence, which could be a subtle hint to Valeria’s relationship with Octavia and how their romance has persisted against time and societal attitudes. The symbology of spiders in Huesera can be linked to the Spider Grandmother of Navajo and Pueblo legend. She is seen as a protector of humans, while also being fabled to cast her web like a net to capture and eat misbehaving children. When considering this legend, the entity within Huesera could be considered a protagonist, rather than an antagonist. It is this demon that pushes Valeria toward accepting who she is as queer woman as well as a parent.

The image of a spider and its web is linked to the entity when Isabel takes Valeria to visit spiritualist Ursula, another former friend and visibly queer woman from her past. It is also suggested that Isabel is queer during this scene, as she runs over to a group of her ‘friends’ while waiting for Valeria, embracing another woman and holding hands while Valeria looks on wistfully. When speaking to Ursula, she says Valeria has ‘got the spider’ and is tightly wrapped in a cobweb, and trapped in a house that is also a prison. It is the first time Valeria’s position and feelings of entrapment are vocalised in the film, and by another queer individual.

As Valeria seeks comfort in her relationship with Octavia while her sanity continues to deteriorate, she comes to blows with her sister Vero after babysitting her niece and nephew, Paola and Jorge. After Valeria harms the children when she believes the entity has broke into the home, Vero berates her, claiming she is a ‘fake woman’ that Raul will see right through, and that ‘people like you shouldn’t have children.’ This can be seen as Vero condemning Valeria’s queer lifestyle, which she must surely be aware of from her adolescence, using hateful language often directed towards LGBTQ+ people. Raul also begins to act more hostile towards Valeria until she puts her boxes of records and guitar into bin bags and helps him build furniture for the nursery, only showing her affection once she has turned her back on her queer identity.

An argument between Valeria and Octavia over Valeria’s dismissal of her sexuality and Queerness is the final straw for Valeria, as she goes into labour and gives birth to her daughter. Immediately there is a disconnect between the two, with the newborn never being named in Huesera and thus feeling less human to the audience, personifying Valeria’s own coldness to motherhood. The family members and medical staff that have repeatedly told Valeria how she should act throughout pregnancy are suddenly absent, leaving just her and Raul to navigate parenthood unsupported. Valeria realises the danger posed toward her baby from the entity and her feelings toward parenthood when, during a night when Raul is absent, she places the infant in the fridge in response to her endless crying. This shocking act is the catalyst that sees Valeria cuddle her baby and seek help from the Queer women in her life – Octavia, Isabel, Ursula, and a group of female spiritualists – no longer hiding her identity and embracing who she is.

The final scenes of the film see Valeria finally accepting her Queer identity and ridding herself of the shame she has felt, learning how to balance her LGBTQ+ relationship and motherhood. The ritual conducted by the women causes Valeria to venture to another realm in search of her child’s blanket in order to rid them both of the spirit. While there, she finally comes face to face with the entity, made up of faceless bodies writhing across a forest floor. They engulf her, turning her into one of them, which could show Valeria confronting her greatest fear of losing her identity under the pressures of a heteronormative society and parenthood. An alternative version of Valeria breaks free from the crush and leaves with the blanket before bursting into flames, a metaphor of a phoenix rising from the ashes and a new Valeria being reborn after confronting her fears.

Once the ceremony is over, Valeria finally appears at peace and relaxed as she smiles while gazing loving at her daughter, surrounded by the Queer women who accept her for who she truly is and supported her unquestionably through her trauma. The final scene of the film sees Valeria leave her daughter with Raul, exiting their family home with a suitcase, backpack, and her toolbox, presumably to accompany Octavia on her trip to the mountains. This ending can be seen to show Valeria rejecting her closeted existence that had constrained her, and accepting the queer life that makes her happy. Valeria can also be seen to reject motherhood as she leaves her daughter behind, or it could be that she is setting off on this journey of self discovery to explore her identity, in order to become the best version of herself and mother for her daughter’s well-being.

Huesera offers a nuanced, heart-warming, and equally heart-breaking look at the fears that go hand-in-hand with Queer parenthood, and the love and support an LGBTQ+ support network can bring. Valeria shows the dangers of closeting oneself, alongside leading a heteronormative lifestyle against their will as she becomes increasingly unhappy and unfulfilled within her romantic and familial relationships. The happiness she finds in Queer relationships – both romantically, within her family, and former friendship group – is what finally helps her accept not only who she is, but her own daughter. As Valeria accepts her own identity, it helps her love and care for the child she has brought into the world. Huesera shows how pregnancy can similarly isolate a parent and how all-encompassing the fear of losing your individualism to parenthood can feel, and the importance of a strong, accepting support network in maintaining a parent’s mental health and identity.

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