While you must applaud Umma for being a mainstream movie that talks about various aspects of Korean culture, sadly, it is a lukewarm horror film.
|Director(s)||Iris K. Shim|
|Screenplay By||Iris K. Shim|
|Where To Watch||In Theaters|
|Genre(s)||Drama, Young Adult, Horror|
|Duration||1 Hour and 23 Minutes|
|Soo-Hyun aka Amanda||Sandra Oh|
|Umma||MeeWha Alana Lee|
Thanks to her childhood trauma, Soo-Hyun, who goes by Amanda, does not allow anything electric near her house and has serious PTSD. But, despite the abuse experienced at the hands of her mother, she tries her best to be the polar opposite of her mom with her daughter Chris. But, as Chris plans to leave for college, Amanda starts to channel her mother’s feelings of abandonment and finds herself fighting both her and her mother’s inner demons.
Things To Note
- Reason(s) for Film Rating: Cursing (A handful of times characters curse, but you could easily keep track), Violence (Implied torture and minor fights), Miscellaneous (A few scenes of drinking)
Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.
A first-generation American citizen, Soo-Hyun, aka Amanda, formerly was an accountant before getting into bee-keeping at the bequest of her daughter Chris. Now, Soo-Hyun didn’t really like the idea of bee-keeping since she didn’t like the sound of bees, but because of Chris’ idea, Soo-Hyun was able to set up a life that allowed her to live very secluded and away from most things that could trigger her trauma.
Chris is a 16 to 17-year-old girl who doesn’t have any friends beyond her mother. This is mainly due to being bullied at the local school and then homeschooled by Soo-Hyun. But, with the idea of going to college brought up to her by one of Soo-Hyun’s vendors, this causes issues between Soo-Hyun and her daughter that leads to supernatural and contentious events.
When in Korea, Umma was a notable dressmaker. However, when she immigrated to the United States, she found her prestige stripped, and with not speaking English, she was often isolated. What didn’t help, on top of that, was her husband leaving her when Soo-Hyun was a child, and because of her developing abandonment issues, she became quite abusive. Her two main means of “disciplining” Soo-Hyun was locking her in a closet and shocking her with a frayed wire.
The Incorporation of Korean Culture
Perhaps the sole highlight is how Umma talks about various aspects of Korean culture, especially when it comes to death. That is what makes Umma feel a bit more specific and not as generic as most of the film seems. Though I should note the way Shim wrote this film, you could easily see it swap out Korean culture with nearly any other. So while you’ll appreciate how this film is different, it doesn’t necessarily feel like it completely avoids feeling generic or like it is using a diversity template.
On The Fence
Generational trauma is front and center when it comes to Umma, but one of the film’s problems is that it doesn’t deep dive into either Soo-Hyun’s relationship with her daughter or mom. Yes, it is explained why Umma became so violent towards her daughter, and as her spirit seeks to possess Soo-Hyun, you can see Soo-Hyun enact the same torture her mom did.
But, while Umma explains things to you, rarely does it just allow you to pick up things on your own. Chris being socially awkward and not being able to make friends is something we’re told about. We don’t get to see Chris struggle with starting a conversation or generally interacting with peers. Yes, it is made clear Umma suffered because she was a non-English speaking immigrant, but I wouldn’t say the film really pushed you to understand what that experience was like. It relies on your already knowing, and with that, you can’t get the clearly desired fleshed-out version of Umma. Rather, she goes from being an almost hollow villain to maybe two-dimensional.
It’s Not As Scary As You May Hope
There is maybe 1 good jump scare throughout the film, and outside of that? Well, it’s PG-13 in the worst ways. It tries to employ suspense, but with Umma just being a lonely spirit who doesn’t inflict any harm, you have no reason to be scared of her. Heck, even if you want to push this to be seen as a psychological horror, it doesn’t elicit scares from that avenue either. For as much as you can understand what happens in Soo-Hyun’s head, with there not being the effort needed to notably feel something for Sandra Oh’s character, things don’t click.
Thus you’re left with a film with horror themes that seems to want to be a drama about generational trauma and doesn’t do justice to either genre.
Our Rating: Mixed (Divisive)
Umma deserves some applause for presenting bits of Korean culture some may not know, but I’d submit that the way presented is barely enough to make Umma stand out. For if you subtract that from this film, I’d say Umma is the kind of film that Netflix, Amazon, or other streaming services release to no fanfare just to say they have something new on their platform.
Hence the mixed label. Umma is a disappointing horror film that lacks scares and emotional highs it wants you to experience. All it has is a handful of tidbits about how Korean treat their deceased that are interesting to know about.
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