Directed By Iris K. Shim

Starring – Sandra Oh, Dermot Mulroney, Fivel Stewart

The Plot – Amanda (Oh) and her daughter (Stewart) live a quiet life on an American farm, but when the remains of her estranged mother arrive from Korea, Amanda becomes haunted by the fear of turning into her own mother.

Rated PG-13 for terror, brief strong adult language and some thematic elements

Umma – Official Trailer (HD) | Now Playing in Theaters – YouTube


What affords “Umma” the freedom to break itself away from the pack is its rich combination of atmospheric dread and thematic depth at the hands of psychological heft that supplants one of the more unique experiences in horror in quite some time. As to where 2016’s “Hereditary” opened the door for genetic toxicity, “Umma” does too with a vividly knowledgeable depiction on the vast cultural differences of American and Korean heritages, and the compelling notion that each of those can psychologically shape who we’re destined to become, but also the metaphorical boogeyman we’re continuously running from. In Korea, kids are meant to always take care of their parents, but in America it’s felt that the parents always take care of the kids, and that diversity in ideals more than makes its way into the many focal points in the film, which are exploited with an air of betrayal for those who try to escape or elude it. That fear of the inevitable crafts an unsettling dynamic for our duo of protagonists, but particularly Sandra Oh, who spellbinds with one of her more transcendent performances of her entire career with an unsettling ambiguity that speaks volumes to the person we love most materializing into a complete and total stranger. Oh maintains a captivating grip on her frail instability, giving into several bleak and depraved situations from her character’s past that swallows her whole, and conveys the mental toll the struggle is taking physically and emotionally in the conflict. Stewart is equally important to the fold, combining an innocence and ambition that makes it easy to invest in her character, all the while supplanting the victimization in her opposition that only intensifies the tragedy. Beyond this, the setting as well weighs heavily into the urgency of the narrative and ensuing conflict, outlining an evidential isolation factor that feels all the more distant from society with Amanda’s refusal to bring technology in or around her plagued household.



Unfortunately, the abundance of ingenuity decorated continuously throughout the plot is spoiled by a heavy-handed depiction in nearly every aspect of production or creative that completely wipes away nuance or interpretation from the engagement. This starts with the dialogue, which not only emits these lines of unnecessarily hilarious emphasis with deliveries that seem ridiculous even for a horror movie, but also paint obviousness in every interaction or obstacle that they’re trying convey. This is made all the worse with the amateur level of computer-generated special effects, which initially feel fine enough when materialized in these one second jolts of jump scares, but become all the less effective and all the more hollow with each passing instance of their usage. Like the screenplay that exudes them, they’re not remotely scary or unnerving with the lack of emphasis on their designs, removing the humanity from the situation that would’ve been far more unsettling with the familiarity of the abusive mother’s appearance weighing heavily on Amanda’s many manifestations. Beyond the heaviness of the thrills, the limitations of the 78 minute run time are equally obvious, mainly in the lack of backstory and characterization that are practically whisked by with little to no meaningful exposition beyond what pertains to just the conflict. This is doubled down on the progression of the pacing, which has the hardest job when the first act is nearly non-existent, and the climactic third act falls as flat as a pancake on a park bench. On the former, the film wastes very little time setting the movements in motion, which normally is a positive for me, but here is slightly chaotic to anyone who hasn’t studied a plot summary for the film, and have trouble distinguishing the ambiguity of its movements, which are made all the more disruptive with the spontaneity of sloppy editing. On the latter, the resolution for the film is not only underwhelming for its lack of confrontation, but also unfulfilling considering it comes and goes with the velocity of a one hit wonder, with the lasting impression of such. Most of the issue here lends itself entirely to the limitations of the movie’s aforementioned pacing, which doesn’t leave enough time for something memorable, with only fifteen minutes left in the film when it materializes. However, I think the issue here is also that the entity of the deceased mother is only approached from a physical level, instead of one that is psychological, leaving far too much meat on the bone of intrigue that all but teases a sequel that this franchise will tragically and thankfully never receive. It’s the exclamation point on a dramatically missed opportunity, and one that feels a little too clean cut for the magnitude of the stakes and circumstances, which at times feel inevitably permanent but instead settle on simply convenient.



“Umma” is a daring introduction and cultural introspective to the silver screen for Iris K. Shim, but unfortunately it’s the descendent of a more impactful film, and one that valued subtlety over expositional smothering. Though the performances from Oh and Stewart properly elicit the unraveling of a family at their most vulnerable, it’s the unpredictable turmoil of a script held in the confines of an limiting run time that is most defining, deducing this aspirational effort to haunted house conventionalism of the most soulless variety.

My Grade: 4/10 or D

3 thoughts on “Umma

  1. I was initially kind of intrigued by the film due to its concept and because I love directorial debutes. Unfortunately, it sounds like this one really missed the mark. It stinks that such good performances and a dedicated director are undone due to a heavy-handed script which is honestly the worst kind. Sounds like a wasted opportunity sadly. Great work!

  2. Well I won’t be seeing this one. There’s just not enough likeable content after reading your review to give it an ample opportunity. I’m not a big Sandra Oh fan either, and judging a film by its cover, I was already passing to.

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