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‘Umma’: Movie Review And Rating

Robby Steven

In the horror genre, there are often underlying themes that reflect on the surface. In ‘Umma,’ the freshman directorial effort from Iris K. Shim, those themes are as clear as day. From parent-child dynamics to generational trauma, ‘Umma’ should be remembered as a film that encapsulates those themes, though the effectiveness ranges.

‘Umma’: Movie Review

Quick Summary
Amanda is a Korean immigrant who has been living in the United States for nearly two decades. After fealing South Korea from her abusive mother, Amanda had a child of her own with the hope of embracing the American dream,. Amanda’s daughter, Chris, is a 16-year-old high school student with dreams that stretch beyond the homemade bee colony that she and her mother have built as the family business. Amanda is soon visited by her long-lost uncle who brings with him the remains of her mother who recently passed away in Korea. The arrival of her uncle and her mother’s remains puts Amanda on edge, testing her mental state in the process. When it’s revealed that Chris is planning to leave home for college, Amanda is haunted by the memory and spirit of her mother, or ‘Umma,’ which threatens their current family dynamic.

Ending: With Spoilers

Amanda and Chris live a comfortable but secluded life due to the former’s fear of interaction and people. We learn that Amanda’s mother once burned her with an exposed electrical cord, resulting in a visible scar on her hand. That memory triggered a fear in Amanda’s mind that prevents her from interacting with any electricity. The mother and daughter duo live without TV, cell phones, or lights, and have no interaction with others outside of a local shop owner named Danny.

Danny’s niece River stays with him for a brief vacation, providing Chris her first and only peer she’s ever really known. When Chris’ temptation to leave home becomes a reality, the spirit of Amanda’s mother haunts them both. Amanda is forced to face the pain of her past and address her mother to protect herself and her daughter.

‘Umma’: Movie Thoughts
With little promotion, ‘Umma’ was quietly released in theaters on March 18, 2022, with two selling points. The film was used as a vehicle for actress Sandra Oh to headline in an off-brand project. Legendary horror filmmaker Sami Raimi also helped produce the project. ‘Umma’ is an interesting film because it doesn’t break any new ground but still stands out enough from the pack.

Sandra Oh, as expected, delivers a stellar performance as Amanda and has believable chemistry with Fivel Stewart, playing Chris. The rest of the cast, though small, do a solid job in adding to the story furthering the layers of tension with the mother and daughter. Director Iris K. Shim controlled the pacing and visuals well for someone who is a novice behind the camera. It’ll be interesting to see where she goes next.

The Negatives

The downside of ‘Umma’ comes mostly in two areas, with post-production being the obvious starting point. As of press time, the production budget for the film was not widely known but it shows in several areas. The most glaring is when it comes to CGI, which is sometimes hidden through the use of shadows. However, a CGI fox is used during one scene in the third act and it’s created so poorly that it could be confused with an early 2000s direct-to-video film. It briefly takes the viewer out of the movie, which is a cardinal sin for any filmmaker.

Another issue for ‘Umma’ comes in its ending. Sandra Oh’s character simply has a sit-down with her mother in the form of a ghost aberration. The conversation lasts a few short minutes before ‘Umma’ agrees to pass on. For a horror film with the Sam Raimi name behind it, one would expect the ending to pack a stronger punch.

‘Umma’: Rating

‘Umma’ appears to be have been lost in the shuffle having been released the same weekend as the much-talked-about ‘X’ from Ti West and A24. Its box office projections have only reached $995,000, which would be considered a massive flop regardless of its budget. The horror community appears split, with a 53 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics, on the other hand, haven’t been as kind with only a 25 percent RT score. Does ‘Umma’ reinvent the wheel or add something new to the subgenre? No, unfortunately, it doesn’t. Does it do enough to warrant a rainy day watch on a streaming service? It’s fair to say that it does with a mild recommendation. 3 out of 5.

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