By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT
Pregnancy and birth are objectively frightening. Stripped of religious, cultural, and emotional baggage, the days leading to the “blessed event” are body horror incarnate. David Cronenberg would be hard-pressed to invent a plot that equals what mothers experience: For nine months, an essential parasitic entity grows in their bodies until it finally bursts forth in a spectacle of pain, blood and screams. Giving birth is a real-life horror show that only those who’ve experienced it can truly understand.
With HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN, filmmaker Michelle Garza Cervera does for pregnancy what David Lynch and Jennifer Kent did for parenthood with Eraserhead and The Babadook. However, HUESERA also shares much with another legendary horror film, 1968’s Rosemary‘s Baby, in that the film’s effectiveness hinges on the performance of a single supremely talented actor. Although Rosemary Woodhouse’s pregnancy ultimately holds direr consequences for the world, the ordeal that HUESERA’s Valeria faces is no less terrifying.
Realistically capturing the physical changes, the mental strain and the loss of identity that come with impending motherhood, then compounding that trauma with a terrifying demonic entity required a supremely talented actor. The role of Valeria depends on someone who can convincingly convey the intensity and emotion to place the audience in the protagonist’s terrified headspace. With the wrong lead, the material could descend into camp, or worse, come across as sterile and unconvincing. For HUESERA, Michelle Garza Cervera found her Mia Farrow in Natalia Solián.
RUE MORGUE recently spent some time with Solián (who, unlike her onscreen counterpart, is nearly always all smiles and laughter). In this interview, the Mexican actor opens up about her grueling role in HUESERA, working with Michelle Garza Cervera and the implications of the film’s ending.
Hello, Natalia. I loved you in HUESERA. You’re so intense!
[laughing] Thank you! Thank you! It was intense for me, too!
What attracted you to this film and the role of Valeria?
I loved the script from the first time I read it. I think, in Mexico, we don’t have a history that speaks realistically about women’s issues … We have a lot of creative women in cinema right now who are really making an impact in our industry. For me, it was very important that a young woman speaks about motherhood. That was the hook for me. I was immediately hooked.
Do you enjoy horror? Would you consider yourself a horror movie fan?
I wasn’t a big fan of horror. Horror is very difficult for me,\. But now that I’ve been in touch with more horror content, it makes sense to me. So I’m a big fan right now! All the horror festivals are really fun. I think that acting [in] horror is a big thing now. I love to watch the different subgenres and I hope I get more opportunities like HUESERA.
How did you prepare to play Valeria? It’s a very complex and layered role.
I did a lot of work with Michelle [Garza Cervera], analyzing the character and figuring out what she wanted to put into her and what was important for her. One of the things that I love about my job is the physical design of the characters, so I spend a lot of time thinking about the kinds of movements that a character has.
I came into the movie fast. I arrived two weeks into production. Very quickly, I was meeting all of the cast and analyzing the characters. On the set, we were trying to understand what kinds of things we could put in the physicality of the characters to make them make sense to us in their relationships, especially in developing Valeria’s relationships.
What was working with Michelle Garza Cervera like? What do you like about her as a director?
I think that she’s a great actor’s director. She spends a lot of time constructing the characters. I love that. I love that we can spend a lot of time talking about their history and the things that are important to them and things that we want to put in the mirror and symbolize in the relationships and the internal situations of the characters.
I am a mother, too, and obviously, that’s a thing that concerns me. Michelle has so many references that are so clear and relatable, like the spider and the pressure that the Huesera puts on Valeria. I don’t know. It was fun putting different accents on the character. At the end, we have a character living in an internal war. I was inspired by this world of references Michelle put in Valeria.
Has the film affected your feelings about motherhood and family?
No, I think it has given me the freedom to express myself. I’m a very happy mom who very much enjoys the moments in my family with my child. I can express myself, and I can be me. I appreciate the fiction and the cinema, but [as actors] we can close the door and come back to our real selves. That’s a great opportunity.
HUESERA has been very well-received by both critics and fans around the world. What are your thoughts about this success?
I didn’t expect it. It was a big surprise. It was the response that we wanted and dreamed of, but that wasn’t something we were trying to provoke. We were only trying to express something that was important to us. It’s amazing that people are relating to it.
The big fear that we had we would be judged in our culture. We wanted Latinas to feel recognized in this movie. We wanted to get that right. But now that we are receiving this kind of reaction, we are very excited. It’s something special. It’s a bit unexpected.
Without giving too much away, do you feel that Valeria has a happy ending?
I don’t know if recognizing yourself and going on a personal journey is a happy emotion. It’s too complex. It’s agridulce. It’s like something bittersweet. It’s great for [Valeria], but I don’t know if it’s happy.
HUESERA: THE BONE WOMAN is now available via VOD from XYZ Films.
“We wanted Latinas to feel recognized in this movie. We wanted to get that right. But now that we are receiving this kind of reaction, we are very excited.“