Ask any mother about the anxiety that comes with pregnancy, and she can tell you about the fears that surface over the course of nine months. It’s an emotional period for expecting parents. Now imagine those moments amplified with the fear of the supernatural as in the Mexican folktale of the “Bone Woman” who may be haunting Michelle Garza Cervera’s chilling debut “Huesera” starring Natalia Solián as the expectant mom and paranormal target.

A towering mountainside shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe serves as the setting for the opening scene. Valeria (Solián), accompanied by her relatives, is at the shrine to make an offering to the Blessed Mother in the hope of becoming pregnant. It’s a last-ditch effort for the young woman and her husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), the two have been trying for a while to have a baby.

The Lord works in mysterious ways as a trip to the doctor confirms that Valeria is pregnant. The happy couple begins preparing for their bundle of joy with Valeria, a carpenter by trade, building a baby crib while turning her workshop into a nursery, and the duo practicing breathing exercises in their condominium.

One night while out on the balcony, Valeria witnesses a woman jump to her suicide from the high rise across the street. She screams in horror while gazing at the mangled body on the street lying in a pool of blood. In a terrifying moment filled with bone-crunching sound effects, the victim stares up at Valeria and begins crawling away. Raúl is awakened by his wife and heads to the balcony to observe the cause of her hysterics, but there’s no sign of a body or blood. Someone call Dr. Loomis.

The film’s atmosphere becomes infused with gloom and dread, but the eerie specter isn’t entirely responsible. Valeria walks around in a daze, her encounters with children result in looks of repulsion and an evening of babysitting her niece and nephew turns into a disaster. Earlier one of Valeria’s relatives commented “You’re not a kid person” and the viewer begins to understand that remark as the expectant mom appears as if she doesn’t want children.

Anxiety begins to overcome Valeria which results in an old habit of cracking her fingers. She also begins smoking and a scene in the bathtub hints that she may be suicidal. Is Valeria going mad or are there malevolent forces at play?

Garza Cervera gives her antagonist plenty of backstory, to help us contemplate Valeria’s actions. Flashbacks show her as a rebellious punk rocker whose anti-establishment stance was echoed by her friend and lover Octavia (Mayra Batalla) who is back in Valeria’s life after the expectant mom seeks her out behind Raúl’s back.

“Huesera” marks a standout performance by Natalia Solián. Tethering real-life fears with the supernatural results in plenty of frightening moments. A trip to the curandera amps up the horror but the audience must decipher if Valeria is experiencing a form of psychosis, or has the young mother conjured the Mexican entity to deal with her maternal anxiety. Chilling to the bone.

(3 stars)

Now showing at American Cinemas Fort Worth

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.