Umma (2022)

IRIS K. SHIM

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

USA, 2022. , , , . Screenplay by Iris K. Shim. Cinematography by . Produced by , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .

The tensions and traumas of motherhood, that connection between parent and child that is both loving and fraught with insecurity, and often even in the best of circumstances, trauma, has been at the core of many scary stories and films, so it should come as no surprise that this pared-down chamber piece thriller joins the fray and, in an even less surprising move, does nothing to either elevate or abuse the storytelling device.

is excellent as Amanda, a woman raising her daughter Chris () on a remote country farm where they keep beehives and sell their honey to their only regular human contact, a grocery store owner in the nearest town played by . The two women live without electricity because Amanda says she gets very sick if she is anywhere near it, and they seem to have no other friends or family until an uncle arrives from Korea with a package under his arm. Amanda is already distraught with the news that Chris wants to go away to college, trying to challenge herself to let go and accept that her child is growing up, but she becomes a jumbled mass of contradictions when her uncle hands her an urn and lets her know that her mother has died back in Korea.

Never having told Chris about her past, Amanda now finds herself literally haunted by visions and ghostly noises coming from her departed matriarch, reminded of the horrible abuse she suffered as a child and which she is now inflicting upon her own daughter: is the dead woman’s spirit beginning to control Amanda’s body and transform her into the cruel old lady, or is it just fate that, despite our best efforts, we all turn into our parents?

This theme is teased as a concept, but ultimately does nothing to explore it, guaranteeing our ability to forget the experience by placing too much emphasis on solidifying our perspective outside of Amanda’s convoluted nerves, and making it very clear that what we’re dealing with is a supernatural presence and not the Turn Of The Screw-ish gray area between superstitious madness and actual poltergeist interference. A number of plot holes speak to the possibility that the film was massively rewritten and re-edited in post-production, so maybe it did begin with the intention of being a more intelligent and complicated investigation of secrets and heredity, but after a good second act gets things going, the plotting oversimplifies its resolution and thinks a slight grace note of a twist in the final shot can make up for it (it can’t).

Great performances are a plus, and a few chilly moments of genuine fear are worth savouring, but for the most part it’s a familiar exercise that will exit your brain as soon as the first credits role.

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