For me it wasn’t just my mother, it was also my grandmother, but my worst nightmare was the thought of me, turning out like either one of them. They were very different humans, but still dangerous. One was distracted and neglectful, but the other was truly evil. Once I was old enough, I wanted nothing from either and never looked back, except to hope that I had ended an ugly family cycle.
I knew watching a film with a woman haunted by her mother could be a trigger for me, but if you put anything with the amazing Sandra Oh in front of me, I am going to watch it.
I will admit that Umma was not as scary as I had hoped, but that’s not to say I didn’t like it.
Writer/director Iris K. Shim has created a wonderful supernatural/psychological thriller. Her feature debut deeply explores the trauma a person can go through and then pass down for generations, because of their own emotional damage and frustrations.
In Umma, we meet Korean immigrant Amanda (Sandra Oh) and her teenage daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart) on their peaceful off-the-grid farm. They seem to be very happy and close. Amanda uses no modern technology or even electricity. Apparently, she is affected badly by any exposure to the slightest voltage, even from a car or watch battery. Almost everything they need is brought to them by a local friend named Danny. (Dermont Mulroney) Amanda is an accountant, (which seems like it could be pretty hard without a computer these days) but has in recent years become a very successful beekeeper. Her honey has become very popular, and Danny has been advertising and selling it for them.
Their idyllic world is destroyed when a man drives his car right up to their front gate, despite the signs asking him not to. He is Amanda’s uncle (Tom Yi), and he brings her news that her mother, (MeeWha Alana Lee) her “Umma” has died. He brings her a suitcase of her belongings, which includes her mother’s ashes, and it is Amanda’s job to fulfill her family duty. Amanda is appalled at the idea, but the uncle, as the harbinger, lets her know that her mother’s spirit will not rest until her daughter takes responsibility and gives Umma a proper and respectful final ceremony.
I feel like this atmospheric film will work the best if you go into it knowing as little as possible.
Whatever abuse happened to Amanda as a child was very traumatic, enough for her to walk away from her family and her Korean heritage. Electricity seems to be the key to the bad things in her past, so she has removed it from her life. She loves her daughter Chris and is nothing like her mother. But has her desire to keep her daughter safe, caused her to keep her too isolated? Doesn’t that make her a lot like her mother? Chris is starting to realize there is a big world out there and may want to be part of it.
The ghosts from the past come back to haunt Amanda and we see in flashbacks, bits and pieces of the horrible abuse she went through as a child. I could very much relate to what was happening to Amanda because I have always worried about turning out like my grandmother. Trying too hard to not become someone else, can consume you.
The movie is a tad slow-going, but it’s worth it when you get to the end. Watching Oh’s performance as she morphs between herself, and her mother, was outstanding. She is all at once a nice, understanding mom and then the abusive reanimation of Umma. Chrissy’s need to move away to college seems to trigger Umma’s angry spirit.
The cinematography was terrific, and I loved all the dark creepy scenes. The special effects were outstanding. When the two women’s faces are made into one – well it was really unnerving.
Maybe Umma is not outright terrifying, but I found this psychological thriller suspenseful enough to keep me hanging in there. I know it is probably all in Amanda’s head, but the ghost seemed real enough to me. And trauma is something that can be passed on from one generation to another. Mother-daughter relationships in reality and on film, are always tricky, but with strong believable performances and great chemistry from Oh and Stewart, you can’t really lose.
Sandra Oh stars in the haunting thriller UMMA from producer Sam Raimi.
Umma was available on digital on May 10th and on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 24th, 2022 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Photos Courtesy of Sony Pictures
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