Korean culture has had an increased presence in Hollywood since the monumental Academy Award win of Parasite. Along with the importing of South Korean films, American movies have had increased representation, including award-winner Minari and the Apple TV+ series “Pachinko.” Umma brings Korean representation to the horror genre, though it is light on both a revealing depiction of Asian culture and effectively frightening sequences. With themes similar to The Babadook and imagery resembling countless other ghost stories, Umma fails to add anything new to the conversation beyond its representation.
As the feature film directorial debut of Iris K. Shim, Umma follows single mother Amanda (Sandra Oh) in her attempts to hold on to her teenage daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart). Although Chris has a desire to go away to college, her controlling mother would prefer she stay isolated at their remote farm. Because of a childhood trauma, Amanda believes herself to be intolerant of electricity, isolating Chris even further without the use of social media or pop culture of any kind.
Amanda’s trauma comes from a troubled relationship with her own mother (MeeWha Alana Lee), whose spirit begins to haunt the farm. As Amanda struggles to control her own daughter, she is increasingly haunted by the past and damage caused by a troubled childhood with her mother. Rather than develop a layered depiction of Amanda’s childhood, Umma is content to merely have her mother show up as a menacing spirit. In other words, Umma sacrifices story development for cheap scares and derivative imagery. Having a character-driven horror movie can work, but only if the characters are developed more than they are in Umma.
Even at 83-minutes, the storyline of Umma seems to drag in ways that make it clear a short film would likely have been a better approach. Even a subplot involving Amanda’s relationship with a local grocer named Danny (Dermot Mulroney), whose niece befriends Chris, isn’t enough to pad the content. Additional characters only make it more apparent that more depth is needed in the screenplay. Shim proves capable of creating atmosphere with directing skills, but her screenplay is disappointing enough for this to be wasted effort.
The Blu-ray release of Umma comes with a digital copy of the film. There are no special feature on the disc worth mentioning.
Entertainment Value: 5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 1/10