With barely time to celebrate two well-earned wins – including New Narrative Director – at Tribeca, horror darling Michelle Garza Cervera will be screening in selection at Fantasia with her feature debut “Huesera.” The film will have played BIFAN and Switzerland’s Neuchâtel Fantastic Film Festival, where it will continue the ominous telling of Valeria, played by Natalia Solián (“500 Millions of Red Shoes”), whose dream of motherhood disintegrates as she is cursed by a dark power. As darkness and evil encroach, she’s forced to confide in a tradition which may be her only hope.
Three years ago, Garza Cervera graced Fantasia with her short “The Original,” and “Huesera” sees its themes of love, desire, and death revisited in color, now with a kaleidoscopic complexity. Cinematographer Nur Rubio Sherwell uses color itself and framing to shape mood and composers Gibrán Androide and Cabeza De Vaca employ foley to paint some moments with silence to frightening effect. Directed by Garza Cervera and co-written with Abia Castillo, “Huesera” is produced by Machete Cine (“Leap Year, La Jaula de Oro”), Disruptiva Films and Señor Z. In another source of large caché, XYZ Films is handling the U.S. theatrical release.
Variety spoke with Garza Cervera ahead of the film’s participation at Fantasia.
Can you talk about the co-writing process for “Huesera”?
I started writing it in 2017. I learned some family history about my grandmother. I had never heard her story. She was a woman who made a decision similar to Valeria’s. And hearing her story moved me so much, I felt I needed to make a film about this kind of process. Then I met my co-writer thanks to a work trip where we had to share a room in Acapulco. Abia is an amazing screenwriter. She gave some notes that immediately, I thought, “Oh my God, I need to write with this woman!” In the end we wrote 13 versions of the script, t3 rewrites. We love working together. We have a TV show together. We have three other movies in development. We write everything together and we have a very strong connection with the subject matter of motherhood and many other aspects of the film.
So it was a very beautiful process. It was hard to understand how the entity had to work. The huesera in the film is a particular entity; it has its own rules and it took a lot of time to cook. It went through many phases.
In the film, you use elements of horror and magical realism to tell the story of Valeria. What inspired this approach?
I’ve done many short films before and everything I’ve done is always horror and genre. I really love it. And I love how it gives tools to tell physical things from daily life. And I knew many years ago that I wanted to make my first film a horror film. And I thought this subject matter was perfect to combine with horror. But I always kept in mind that “horror” was there to serve the process, not the other way. I never wanted to be like, oh, I want a very scary moment. It was always the other way, so in this moment Valeria’s feeling something and from that feeling, what kind of horror moment can I construct? And from something that is mostly a family drama? When we were losing ourselves in the horror, we would pull back. And that’s why the horror is very controlled.
How would you articulate the way that Valeria’s secrets and her history play into her character and story?
I feel like she’s lying to herself. She’s been making many decisions in her life in order to fit what is expected. To me, it was just very important to have this character that doesn’t want to look inside because she’s scared of touching those feelings, of doubts, and then building a supernatural entity that takes her back to that spot. It takes her back to confront it, to face the decisions that she made.
You used color in the film to affect the mood of certain scenes. Can you talk about your approach to color?
Sometimes we were scared that it was going to be too subtle. But I’m very happy to hear now from people watching it that they do notice it. We wanted to have primary colors at home, like reds, yellows, blues. Something that feels very harmonious, but it’s horrific, you know? And so that’s something that the cinematographer and I, we always had in mind. We didn’t want any cliche of the dark world of horror. We wanted it to feel unsettling. And the spider webs as well, that’s something that we wanted really to try to make present in every shot. The cinematographer, Nur Rubio Sherwell, I have followed her for years and I felt like her sensibilities were exactly how I envisioned the story.