Sat. Apr 1st, 2023

PLOT: Amanda and her daughter live a quiet life on an American farm, but when the remains of her mother arrive from Korea, Amanda becomes haunted by the fear of turning into her own mother.

REVIEW: Umma can be best described as a squandered opportunity. There is a good idea in writer/director Iris K. Shim’s feature film debut but it doesn’t quite come together. The film doesn’t really work as a horror movie nor as a psychological drama. Shim attempts to navigate both avenues but end result is very flat. It’s a shame because Shim is aided by a top notch showing from Sandra Oh but even her best efforts can’t save this misfire.

Amanda (Sandra Oh) works as a beekeeper while living off-the-grid with her daughter, Chris (Fivel Stewart). One day, Amanda’s uncle (Tom Yi) arrives with the remains of her umma (mother, in Korean) whom she had been estranged from for years. Something happened between Amanda and her mother years ago that led to that estrangement and to Amanda’s aversion to electricity. Soon she suddenly starts seeing apparitions of her mother as she gradually confronts her past trauma.

The frustrating thing about Umma is that there is a darker and profound movie lurking beneath the surface. Shim presents a lot of themes that could be enticing to explore but never follows through with them. The relationship between Amanda isn’t explored enough to justify the “horror” that comes from her mother’s remains being brought to her. It also doesn’t help that the key exposition about what traumatic event happened between the two is withheld until the end. The film merely treads water as Amanda’s mother haunts her over and over again with no real justification for the audience. Eventually, the haunting becomes repetitive and the experience lacks real thrills or chills to keep you invested.

The relationship between Amanda and her own daughter is also squandered. There could’ve been a good opportunity to explore parallels between their relationship and Amanda’s relationship with her own mom but they never come to fruition. Sandra Oh and Fivel Stewart do overcome the issues of the screenplay to forge admirable performances but you can tell they’re working with a story that’s severely undercooked. It’s a credit to them that do make something out of nothing much at all.

Even at a slim 83 minutes, the film also features subplots that don’t amount to much of anything. One involves a blossoming friendship between Chris and River (Odeya Rush), the daughter of Amanda’s friendly neighbor, Danny (Dermot Mulroney). The scenes are mostly contrived and they don’t do much to move the narrative forward. More time could be spent on the mother/daugher relationship and it makes these scenes feel like filler. It’s almost as if Shim doesn’t realize what the most interesting part of the story is.

The film’s third act does pick things up a bit but it also feels too rushed as Shim seems too afraid to really dig deep into Amanda’s emotional pain. Sandra Oh almost makes us believe in Amanda’s character arc thanks to her performance but, in the end, it’s a little hard to believe. The film could’ve been grounded in more emotional depth if we got the sense that Amanda was truly going through an emotional journey.

Stylistically, the film is on point and Shim does toy with some impressive shots that does threaten to make things a bit more interesting than they are. There is a visually striking scene of bees swarming a window and while it does provide an interesting metaphor, Shim doesn’t do much with it. The film’s score is also intrusive as it dictates to the audience when they should be spooked out. It really shows that Shim doesn’t trust that the film is truly scary.

The best that can be said about Umma is that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s short and to the point but the disappointing thing is that there are seeds for a good story here. Despite Sandra Oh doing her best to breathe life into a thankless role, Umma ends up being a chore to sit through. It’s a harmless endeavor but it’s also very shallow and dul.

umma, movie review, sandra oh


By admin