Monday, July 25, 2022


Movie Name:
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Iris K. Shim
Starring: Sandra Oh, Fivel Stewart, Dermot Mulroney, Odeya Rush, MeeWha Alana Lee, Tom Yi
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Another release hailing from Netflix, and another directorial debut, this time around for Iris K. Shim, whose previous works includes some shorts and also documentary features. "Umma" follows the story of Amanda, who lives with her daughter Chrissy on a farm, raising bees, selling honey, and also raising chickens, all this without modern technology. Amanda has explained to Chrissy she has an allergic reaction to electronics and electricity, which explains the somewhat rustic way they have lived. Amanda is surprised to learn Chrissy wants to leave the farm and go to college. At the same time she receives the visit from her uncle from Korea, who is delivering the ashes of her recently deceased mother. These events spark some memories of her abusive childhood. Turns out Amanda was raised by her mother, whom she refers as Umma, in the US, and her mother was unable to speak English or understand the culture. Amanda fabricated her pseudo allergy to electricity, since her mother used to shock her multiple times as a punishment. Amanda eventually cut ties with her mother and her culture. Soon after the ashes arrive, a vicious spirit appears, with the intention of claiming Amanda's body. As the supernatural events continue to present themselves, Amanda's fears she's becoming her mother intensify. This is also enhanced by Chrissy's desire to leave for college. When Amanda decide's to bury her mother's ashes, a flurry of events occur which threaten the peaceful existence she has carved for herself and her daughter.
One of the biggest issues with "Umma" doesn't lie with the fact that it doesn't have an interesting premise. In reality the premise itself is fantastic, since it deals with issues such as cultural inadequacy, loneliness, alienation of affection and fear of abandonment. What doesn't really work is that the film showcases the relationship between this mother and daughter in a somewhat shallow manner, never truly going beyond the superficiality of certain tasks, or for that matter, never illustrating the ties that bind these characters. For that matter, it doesn't do the same for Amanda and her relationship with Umma. And that's one of the film's biggest gaps, because there's not much context illustrated for what Amanda went through in the past, and how that shaped her present (including her own relationships with others). While the film toys with shadows and darkness to build this ominous environment, it's at times too dark to actually allow the viewer to catch a glimpse of whatever is happening, which is also an apt metaphor for the fact that so much of background on these characters is actually given. It's a film that feels built around an interesting concept, but which has failed to materialize itself with actual characters and storytelling behind them. Sandra Oh tries her best to bring Amanda to life, but there's so much more to explore in that character that her rendition feels somewhat incomplete, the same going for the supporting cast who sadly never have much to do (her daughter apparently only wants to go to college, and has no interests other than that). The cinematography from Matt Flannery is at times too dark, and the production design from Yong Ok Lee is stark but efficient. While not a dreadful film, it definitely could have benefited from additional development time. As it is, it's forgettable.