Amanda’s life as an adult is about as far away from her childhood as it could get–and that’s exactly the way she likes it. After escaping her abusive upbringing in Korea at the hands of her mother, she’s built a life for herself on a very rural bee farm in America, where she raises her daughter, tends to her bees and chickens, and has studiously cut herself off from electricity, which she claims she is allergic to, and her Korean heritage.
On the surface, things are pretty idyllic for Amanda, except for the nightmares she regularly endures. But the sudden appearance of her long-lost uncle, with news that her mother has died and her ashes in tow, brings to the forefront a whole slew of issues. Not the least of which is the fact she’s pretty sure her mother’s ghost is now haunting her. . . .
I was curious about this movie because I saw it described as the horror version of Minari. I think that is a pretty apt comparison, though I did find Umma more uneven. That being said, I did enjoy Umma, and if you want to watch something horror-related for Halloween that isn’t particularly scary but is thought-provoking and chilling, this movie would be the perfect fit.
Sandra Oh (Sideways, Grey’s Anatomy) is particularly good as Amanda. By turns, she’s a devoted mother and a cagey woman with terrible secrets who undergoes her own dark transformation as the movie progresses. Fivel Stewart (Atypical) also does a great job as Amanda’s sheltered daughter Chris, who is testing her mother’s boundaries and deeply unaware of much of her mother’s background.
This movie is a ghost movie, and the incorporation of Korean folklore into the horror is an interesting twist. That being said, I think the movie is much more effective as a psychological thriller that probes questions about identity and trauma, particularly intergenerational trauma. It handles these themes thoughtfully and with more nuance than most horror films would approach them. There are certainly some eerie moments in the movie that are straight out of the horror movie playbook, but overall, the most disturbing moments are not the supernatural ones.
Stylistically, the movie is an interesting one, but I thought it also leaned too hard on jump scares and horror movie music cues. There are so many of the latter, long before anything is actually frightening, that they started to strike me as mildly funny more than atmospheric. I’ve also seen some criticism of the movie that the horror elements themselves tend to be rather formulaic, and I don’t disagree. As previously stated, I don’t think that is really the film’s strength.
The movie may not appeal to hardcore horror films and it does have some flaws, but I do think it is definitely worth watching. Just realize that it’s more of a gothic psychological thriller with supernatural overtones than a true horror movie.
Have you watched Umma? What’s your favorite ghost movie? What are you watching for Halloween? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information on this item or to place it on hold.