By – Gareth Jones
For fans of Mexican folk/body horror like Tigers Are Not Afraid, thought-provoking and challenging themes regarding bodily autonomy, strong female directors
This is an astonishing debut feature length film from MichelleGarza Cervera. Of course, she comes with a successful run of short horror films.and strong training at The Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica. It is unfair to compare, but her assurance and mastery of film language is reminiscent of Issa Lopez, director of Tigers Are Not Afraid. She already understands and fully incorporates sound design, production design, and succinct, concise cinematography into her mise en scène.
Much like the aforementioned Tigers and also La Llorona from Guatemala, Cervera does a phenomenal job of adapting traditional folklore to the cinema and blending it with contemporary realities. The traditional tale of a woman collecting animal bones and singing them to life into the shape of a woman is updated to a story about bodily autonomy and how women/queer people are controlled by cultural expectations/values. It begins by showing a young woman, Valeria, on a pilgrimage up a series of endless stairs with her mother (and many others, most likely authentic pilgrims) to the gigantic statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It then descends into her story as she is trying to get pregnant under the pressure of her family, her husband, his family, and the expectations of society. She achieves this but along the way, she also begins to have visions of a broken woman who haunts her and her future child. In flashback, we learn that Valeria was a young independent queer punk who changes her path after her brother dies. She goes on to attend college and move on to a path of traditional female expectations, sublimating and suppressing her own identity and dreams.
The film achieves moments of excruciating terror, most often through sound design. Valeria constantly cracks the joints in her hands whenever she is nervous or upset (often) which in turn is mirrored in the broken figure. As with many great horror films, she understands that the theater of the mind is more powerful than practical effects. That being said, there are a few practical highlights in the film that are enhanced by the sound design. The performance of Natalia Solián is exceptional, expressing the fear and pain of her character’s descent into possible madness. Like previous pregnancy/parenting horror films Rosemary’s Baby or The Babadook, Huesera uses the genre as a means of addressing a real lived experience. Cervera uses the tropes of the genre to discuss challenging and important topics. The exploration of ideas like forced pregnancy or denial of identity is vital and important, especially from a female perspective. Michelle Garza Cervera is a director to admire for her artistry and for her bravery in tackling these topics.
Available to stream on Shudder or rent on other streaming platforms
Written by: Gareth Jones
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