Mexican director and screenwriter Michelle Garza Cervera remembers as a little girl hearing stories about her grandmother – a woman she never met, but someone who had gained a kind of notorious status among family members over the years.
After her mother died, Cervera began asking “uncomfortable questions about the fear” that had been instilled in her at a young age about her grandmother. She wanted to know more about this woman who had grown into this “very evil kind of image” and start piecing together parts of her family history.
“Whenever I would bring up my grandmother, it would always be like, ‘Don’t ask about her. She was a bad person. We don’t speak about her,’” Cervera told Remezcla during a recent interview to talk about her directorial debut, Huesera: The Bone Woman. “I only knew that she left when my father was little, but those stories were very complex. Her name was always hidden – always in silence.”
When Cervera began writing the script for Huesera, she wanted to explore the connection between herself – a woman in her 30s who does not have children – and her grandmother. She was inspired by the idea of how “social expectations can be very terrifying” and the fact that her grandmother made a decision as a Mexican woman in the 1940s that would ultimately “erase her from existence.” Cervera believed that the best way to tell that narrative was as a supernatural horror film.
“I felt like there was a lot to inspect in those themes,” she said. “Horror was the perfect genre to do an exploration of this kind of character.”
Huesera tells the story of Valeria (Natalia Solián), a young woman expecting her first child who becomes cursed by a sinister entity. Struggling with the idea of becoming a mother, Valeria finds herself overcome with dread and seeks out a way to ease her despair as her pregnancy looms. As with other high-concept horror films like 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 2014’s The Babadook, Cervera took themes of motherhood and bodily autonomy and crafted them into a terrifying cinematic experience.
“It’s important to give light to these stories,” Cervera said. “I feel like it’s liberating and cathartic and necessary for families to discuss those classic concepts like the black sheep of the family. There’s nothing wrong with talking about them. We shouldn’t hide them.”
While there will always be a place in the horror genre for slasher flicks and mainstream monster movies, Cervera said she’s pleased that filmmakers are expanding on the perceptions of what a horror film can be. With modern directors like Ari Aster, Jennifer Kent, Robert Eggers, and Jordan Peele and those that came before them like John Carpenter, she celebrates how horror continues to evolve as an art form.
“There’s always been this core to horror films that have a very insightful message about the human condition,” she said. “That’s really my style. I like a film to feel more contained. I like to build more from the silence and focus on what is out of frame than what is inside. That construct of cinema is what I’m interested in the most.”
Huesera: The Bone Woman is available now on VOD.