A forgettable intergenerational horror
Watching Umma will almost certainly draw parallels to Pixar’s Turning Red. Granted, that’s a strange comparison to make, but right now there’s a whole wave of movies and shows tackling Asian culture and, in particular, Korean heritage. Whether that’s a direct result of movies like Parasite and shows like Squid Game hitting the US cultural zeitgeist is anyone’s guess.
Specifically though, the theme that’s most closely examined is that regarding the bond between families. Both Turning Red and Umma center on the fraught relationship between mother and daughter, but while Turning Red is likely to be well remembered for years to come, Umma is not.
If that mother/daughter relationship wasn’t obvious enough from the synopsis, the film’s title, Umma, literally translates to “Mother”. But the title of Mother has already been taken by 2017’s polarizing picture involving Jennifer Lawrence. Umma is not polarizing, but it’s also not very good either.
The story here centers on a woman called Amanda, who lives a quiet life on an American farm with her daughter Chris. She remains haunted by the memories of her estranged mother back in Korea, worried that her parenting style will emulate her mother’s.
On paper, Umma actually has some pretty compelling elements. The movie is under 90 minutes, the story is super simple and themes will likely resonate with anyone who has suffered from strained relationships with their parents. There’s some decent character work done here, especially from Sandra Oh who does most of the heavy lifting as Amanda.
Unfortunately, where the film spends so much time embracing and exploring its themes, it forgets to leave behind any good scares, given this is supposed to be a horror.
Instead, Umma throws in haphazard jump scares or fake-out build-ups just to keep the audience going but even at under 90 minutes, there’s not a lot to cling to here. The few jump scares that do show up are not very well orchestrated and even the little fake-outs feel tired and well-worn – even by this genre’s standards.
The other problem with Umma is how much it reveals early on. We see the antagonistic threat super early in the movie and from there, the stagnant plot just never really kicks into high gear to justify that. The resolution is also a problem too, wrapping everything up without too much in the way of conflict.
The quiet moments of reflection in between these segments is certainly welcome, but then you realize it’s not really an earned break from the horror, given there’s not really any horror that materializes across the 80 minutes.
Despite its hasty run-time and super simple story, Umma is not a film you’ll remember for long. It’s a movie that wastes potential and ultimately fizzes out into a forgettable intergenerational horror.
Verdict - 4/10