Is a part of the body, but also the other: "Bone Spirit" is a fantastic expression of fear of pregnancy.

"The Bone Woman" (original title Huesera: The Bone Woman) has an interesting translated name in Chinese. "Huesero" in Spanish means "bone setter," a folk healer who treats fractures; "Huesera" is the feminine form of this word. There is a Mexican myth behind it: a woman collects bones from various animals, piecing them together to form a complete skeleton, and then gives life to the skeleton. This new life runs towards the realm of freedom, but sometimes returns to the human world in the form of a woman. The Chinese translation of the name is "骨灵" (Bone Spirit). "The Bone Woman" is a horror film that is not particularly obscure (nor very terrifying), but the bone spirit imagery created by the film is unexpectedly thought-provoking.

"The Bone Woman" incorporates the fear of pregnancy into the genre of body horror, depicting the physical pain and mental torment that the mother experiences during pregnancy through supernatural portrayals. The "bone spirit" is not a ghost or monster that comes out of nowhere, but a woman named Valeria, the protagonist, who witnesses another woman jumping off a building shortly after becoming pregnant. What is terrifying is that the woman who jumped off the building broke her bones but did not die. Her broken body becomes a new whole, the "bone woman"; she is shattered and deformed, but agile and flexible, creating a strong horror effect. Since then, the bone spirit enters Valeria's home every night, bringing her real fear and physical pain, until her husband wakes up, as he cannot see the bone spirit.

Another deeper fear that is inconvenient to talk about in society is that the fetus will forever be an inseparable part of a mother's life - this is both a blessing and a curse, and it is the basis of the film's possession/exorcism narrative. Valeria, representing the mother, has a contradictory relationship with her fetus. The mother nurtures the fetus, but also competes with it for nutrients and space; in the family and social space, the mother's status and consciousness will also make sacrifices and concessions for the unborn child. Rather than saying that the mother wants to nurture the fetus, it is more accurate to say that from the moment the fetus takes shape, the mother hopes to free herself from its possession and plunder. However, it is well known that becoming a mother is a transformation process that cannot be easily ended once it begins, with no possibility of returning to the original state or the past. The woman who jumped off the building is just a projection of Valeria's fear; the fetus in her womb, her future son, is the real and inescapable "bone spirit." Perhaps this is the deepest fear of pregnancy: that the "other" is not elsewhere, but growing inside.

Valeria is far from the "ideal" mother. At the beginning of the film, Valeria struggles to climb to the top of a mountain and kneels before the statue of the Virgin Mary, praying for a child. The camera slowly zooms out from her, and the crowd gradually becomes tiny like ants, and then we realize how huge the statue standing in the forest is, even to the point of being terrifying. The immaculate and enormous figure of the Virgin Mary dissolves in the next scene: a ghostly woman wearing a white robe, walking towards the end of a gloomy room with a raging fire burning behind her. This intense visual conflict hinders the audience's imagination of the great and holy motherhood. On the other hand, according to social expectations, Valeria's husband, Raúl, is a good husband, but he can never truly empathize with his wife. As her wife's strange behavior increases, his comfort and companionship become impatient. The fantasy of being a good father and husband crumbles internally, even though Raúl remains a caring and loving man in front of others. "The Bone Woman" discusses the fear of childbirth, but its underlying reality is despair in marriage.

In addition to the bone spirit itself, the film's horror atmosphere also comes from the alienation of the family space. From the mansion after the blizzard to the unexpectedly sealed coffin, from the malfunctioning elevator to the bed with shackles, many horror films use confined spaces to create tension and intense conflicts. "The Bone Woman" is no exception; the home becomes a natural confined space that undergoes significant changes after Valeria becomes pregnant. As a craftsman, Valeria used to have a dedicated studio in her home, which was also her resting place (with a guitar), but they had to transform this room into a nursery. One night, Valeria, in fear, follows the bone spirit into this room and sees the bone spirit on the baby crib she made herself, so she sets it on fire.

In a sense, her pregnant body is also the "room for the baby." Like the burned baby crib, she is also subjected to scorching. The space of the home and the space of the body establish a parallel relationship, trapping her in both the home and her own body. The exorcist tells her: sometimes a home (casa) can also be a prison (cárcel). The camera's perspective is repeatedly confined to a closed space, including the baby crib, further intensifying the claustrophobic fear generated by the indoor scenes. After the child is born, Valeria is tormented by his incessant crying one night and throws him into the refrigerator in madness: another space that loses its everyday function and becomes a cold prison. The experience of confinement is violently passed on from the mother to the son, lingering like a ghost in the family.

Valeria's revenge on her son becomes a failure in her remorseful attempt the next morning, and it becomes another painful transformation for her to undergo exorcism and endure (in the supernatural space). The exorcist tells Valeria that the exorcism process "cannot be stopped once it begins," undoubtedly another reference to pregnancy. Valeria makes up her mind to undergo exorcism for the second time, leading to the climax of the film, both narratively and visually. In the supernatural space created during the ritual, the bone spirit no longer appears in the form of one or a few, but as a group. This brings to mind Valeria's suffocating extended family, who (except for one aunt who understands Valeria) have always doubted Valeria's ability to be a competent mother, and every interaction makes Valeria feel more isolated and panicked. Some inexplicable reasons have led to Valeria having a bad reputation within the family. Director Michelle Garza Cervera mentioned her own grandmother in an interview, "someone I have never seen but is notorious within the family." After her grandmother chose to leave the family, the rest of the family rarely mentioned her story, and Cervera also knew very little about it, which created a lot of curiosity and fear, and this film is also an exploration of the connection between herself (a thirty-year-old unmarried woman) and her grandmother, reflecting many imprints of her own experiences and thoughts.

In the supernatural space created during the exorcism ritual, Valeria has nowhere to escape and ultimately suffers a collective attack from all the bone spirits. They twist and crawl, piling up on her body, gnawing at her skin, and breaking her bones. This imagery may be difficult to explain as societal pressure - the film does not directly discuss many social issues outside of the family - but it still leaves room for imagination. In the end, when the bone spirits scatter, Valeria is left battered and loses her human form. In the surreal world, she also becomes a "bone spirit" - a woman who has lost her original shape but is still alive. The cracking sound of bones allows the audience to feel the pain of transformation. Returning from the supernatural space to reality, Valeria completes her transformation, freeing herself from the bone spirit, and the film comes to its final question: where will she ultimately go?

Note: The following images may be disturbing to some readers.

Valeria's character is somewhat ambiguous in the first half of the film; she seems to be just a woman who initially prays for pregnancy but eventually fears it. But we gradually discover that she is also a weak person: she once gave up her ex-girlfriend Octavia and chose a path that is more socially acceptable, but when she suffers in her marriage, she turns to her ex-girlfriend for spiritual help. Through Octavia's words, the film points out Valeria's hypocrisy and selfishness. Valeria is the only character in the film with an arc, and at the end of the film, she leaves home with her luggage, leaving behind her husband and child - just like director Cervera's grandmother.

The repeated similar scares may make some viewers tired, but "The Bone Woman" is still a film worth watching. Even without understanding the Mexican social background, it can still touch people with its fantastic imagination and bold yet delicate portrayal. Whether it is the Christian Virgin Mary or Mexican legends, the female body seems to be the essence of countless stories, the carrier of the "future," burdened with too many expectations, to the point of blurring its original appearance. After the ritual ends and the bones are set straight, Valeria chooses to escape from the family and the symbols it carries, hoping that this time she can be herself.

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