The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - UMMA | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - UMMA

umma review
A woman is haunted by her mother's spirit.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Iris K. Shim

Starring: Sandra Oh, Fivel Stewart, MeeWha Alana Lee, Tom Yi, Odeya Rush, Dermot Mulroney

umma poster

Everyone seems to believe that overbearing mothers are unique to their specific culture. Korean moms, Irish moms, Jewish moms, Italian moms… we're led to believe they all suffocate their children with love. But are there really any cultures where this isn't the case? Do cultures exist where moms just don't give a damn? Like the rest, Korean-Americans believe their mothers are uniquely stifling. This idea fuels writer/director Iris K. Shim's feature debut Umma, named after the Korean word for "Mum."

umma review

Sandra Oh plays Amanda, a first generation Korean-American who lives in the back of beyond with her 16-year-old daughter Chrissy (Fivel Stewart), where they run a modest but successful apiary together. As detailed in a poorly rendered prologue, Amanda has a curious condition whereby electricity makes her sick. This means even phones are banned from her home, which leads her daughter to live a lonely existence.

When Amanda's uncle arrives from Korea with her mother's ashes, Amanda is confronted by a past she's seemingly been attempting to escape. With her mother's remains in her home Amanda is haunted by her Umma's spirit, while reconciling with her own daughter's desire to leave for college.

umma review

Umma is the latest of several recent American horror movies that feel like they began life as straight dramas exploring culturally specific issues, only to adopt a horror patina in order to find an audience. The idea of a woman's terror at the idea of becoming her mother should be interesting enough that it doesn't need to be wrapped in genre swaddling, and Shim does little to convince us that she's passionate about horror filmmaking. The horror sequences are a collection of tired clichés, rendered with little enthusiasm. This lack of commitment extends to Oh's performance, which is so dialled down you might wonder if he had herself hypnotised to get through the shoot.

umma review

In these identity obsessed times, Umma does broach the thorny subject of how many immigrants go out of their way to escape their family's culture, whether as a means of fitting in with their adoptive society or due to a wish to shed conservative values their generation doesn't share. But Umma can't quite decide what it wants to do with this idea. On one hand Korean culture is represented as regressive and misogynistic, while on the other it's viewed with an almost patronising quaintness. Despite its filmmaker's cultural roots, Umma feels very much like an American take on Asian horror, and something has been lost in translation along the way.

 is on Netflix UK/ROI now.