‘Huesera: The Bone Woman’
This Spanish-language first feature from the Mexican director Michelle Garza Cervera covers familiar horror territory — mom trauma, folk brujeria — but puts a macabre, feminist refresh on worn formulas.
Valeria (Natalia Solián) is suffocating, not by a pair of hands or under a pillow but by her pregnancy. Her husband, Raúl (Alfonso Dosal), is overjoyed to be a dad, but her ex-girlfriend Octavia (Mayra Batalla) wonders why the once-punk Valeria wants to be a mom anyway. It doesn’t help that Valeria is seeing things: a woman jumping off a balcony, a hand gripping her ankle from under the bed.
Valeria finds comfort one night in an old stomping ground — a crowded mosh pit — but then she goes into labor, delivering what the doctor calls her little “princess.” That’s when the terrors in this assured, deeply unsettling film go from a slow-burn simmer to a sense-blistering supernatural boil. Solián’s centered performance makes a mother’s ambivalence and doubt — not easy to get across onscreen — look utterly forbidding.
Remember when it felt like a death wish just to go outside during the coronavirus lockdown? A similar paranoia is at play for the group of neighbors sheltering inside a besieged home in this zombie-contagion thriller. Their fear isn’t that “we’re not coming back from this,” as one character says. It’s that their food supply is dwindling, it’s a snowy Canadian winter outside and a small posse of the undead is hungry for flesh.
The ensemble story primarily centers on two people: Derek (Derek Lackenbauer), who we know from the beginning hides a sinister past, and a guy who goes by Winter (Michael Wurtz), a wanderer who the zombies mysteriously ignore. When bodies pile up in their orbit, the assembled parties are forced to battle an evil threat from inside the house too.
Adrian Konstant’s low-budget feature debut is an intimate and intensely creepy snapshot of our pandemic era and its monsters. Even though the execution and performances are clunky at times, I got hooked from the start, thanks to the film’s tight, deliberate pacing and a calibrated script (written with Jason T. Green) that isn’t scared to keep circumstances unexplained. Konstant made the right call to let actual sunlight bathe parts of his film in chilling, naturalistic eeriness.
‘Bury the Bride’
June (Scout Taylor-Compton) celebrates her coming marriage by going on a getaway with her sister, Sadie (Krsy Fox), and three friends: party girl Carmen (Lyndsi LaRose), nerdy Liz (Rachel Brunner) and sensible Betty (Katie Ryan).
June’s fiancé, David (Dylan Rourke), sets the women up with a small, inelaborate cottage, a strange place for a blowout bachelorette party. Even weirder is that none of June’s friends have met or seen David. But then David and his friends unexpectedly show up, including the mousy Puppy (Chaz Bono), and to the women’s shock, their male visitors are not just boorish party people. They’re also vicious vampires out for young female blood.
That’s the sinister set up in Spider One’s horror-action comedy that, despite some uneven attempts at humor, is stuffed with enough grossout bloodsucking and final-girl fistfights to satisfy thrillride-thirsty horror fans. I wish One and Fox (who co-wrote the script) kept LaRose and her stellar comedy chops around longer; she’s funny from start to her abrupt finish. The final scene delivers a touching message about the lengths people will go to make sure love never dies.
After being attacked by her abusive ex-boyfriend, Kate (Beth Dover) decides on an unorthodox path to recovery: She volunteers to spend several months alone as a fire ranger keeping watch at an old lookout tower in rural Idaho. She’s not totally alone; she visits her kindly widower neighbor (Dylan Baker) and checks in with rangers (Ato Essandoh and Dallas Roberts) who make sure she minds her duties and doesn’t go stir crazy.
One day, Kate meets a hiker, Bertha (Becky Ann Baker), and the two forge a friendship that, over target practice and rabbit hunting, morphs into a kind of survivalist kinship. Then comes the afternoon when Kate and Bertha listen to Buddy Miles’s “Them Changes” and Bertha starts to suddenly, shockingly morph — a twist that leads Kate into a to-the-death fight for survival.
The actor Joe Lo Truglio makes his feature directing debut with a strange mashup. It’s a seclusion narrative peppered with droll “Malignant”-ish melodramatics but shot through with a dead-serious story about the lingering effects of emotional and physical trauma. The result is a ferociously feminist psychological thriller that’s also uncomfortably, hard-to-classify funny. I squirmed and smiled, and sometimes squirmed as I smiled. Scary, right?
‘Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva’
The writer-director Dutch Marich is part of a dynamic new crop of horror filmmakers, including Robbie Banfitch (“The Outwaters”) and Paul Owens (“LandLocked”), who are concerned less with narrative certainty and more with upending found footage conventions to intensely scary cinematic ends. One of my favorite discoveries of 2022 was “Horror in the High Desert,” Marich’s not-so-real documentary about a man who goes missing in rural Nevada.
That’s why I was eager to see how Marich followed up in this sequel about two young women, Minerva (Solveig Helene) and Ameliana (Brooke Bradshaw), who also meet mysterious ends in nowhere Nevada. This time around, Mariah turns up the creep factor when he hands the POV over to the unseen muttering weirdo who might be behind the women’s disappearances; the film takes on an unsettling otherworldliness akin to the performance artist Paul McCarthy’s demented workshop videos. Amelia’s abduction delivers a fright, but the film’s unfocused exposition and reserved payoff make for too-mild bookends.
Still, I’m looking forward to seeing what this adventuresome director scares me with next.