By Josh Reilly B.
Sam Raimi is a horror icon, having worked on many beloved scary movies like Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe, The Gift, Crawl, and more. Raimi was in the directing chair for his most famous work in the horror genre in the Evil Dead franchise starring Bruce Campbell, an actor who seemingly appears in every project the director works on (including three fantastic appearances in the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy). However, Raimi has also produced countless horror outings, as highlighted by Crawl, The Gift, and others.
Raimi’s latest venture into horror is in a producer role yet again with Umma, a spooky supernatural thriller starring Sandra Oh, perhaps best known for the hit TV series Killing Eve. Oh plays Amanda, a Korean woman who moved to the U.S. to get away from her mother (the film’s title means mother in Korean) and lives on a remote farm with her daughter, Chris (Fivel Stewart). The two make honey together, and their lives are quaint and without much social contact. This might sound like a straightforward living situation for the mother-daughter pair, but it certainly isn’t, as they purposely avoid the usage of electricity or any technology at all. They have no lights, phones, or a television due to Amanda’s belief that electricity makes people sick.
This is how their lives begin, but when the ashes of Amanda’s now deceased mother are given to her by her uncle, who traveled all the way from Korea, the movie quickly shifts into an all out ghost story. A college related conflict between Amanda and Chris means that the two aren’t on the best of terms as all of this begins, and the former begins to see visions of her deceased mother frequently. The tension between the two main characters leads Amanda to wonder if she is becoming to Chris what her own mother was to her: that is, an overprotective and overbearing influence that had a negative effect on her and her well-being.
The themes that this movie plays with are initially interesting, especially for a horror film. A child wanting to go away to college despite having a reluctant parent is a plot line seen often, but in this context, it’s quite unique. Still, there’s little to no subtly or nuisance with the way in which this is presented to the audience. Umma doesn’t need the main character spelling everything out for the audience in order for the viewer to understand, as these themes would be a lot more effective if they were presented without the unnecessary hand-holding throughout.
Unfortunately, this is not the only issue with Umma. As a horror film, it’s quite a basic entry; the scares are the opposite of noteworthy, and it feels like a very straightforward attempt at a scary movie. There are a few moments in which the sound design shines as well as a nice upside down camera shot, but everything beyond that is too basic for this movie. In recent years, horror films have arguably struggled to scare audiences as they once did, and this might be down to the sheer amount of titles in the genre and the numbness that comes with that, or even a lack of imagination from viewers. Still, Umma can’t blame its lack of well-executed horror moments on this.
Beyond that, the pacing of the film is certainly odd, something that is arguably to be expected given it’s brisk 86 minute runtime. Still, it’s often jarring and makes it hard to watch. Some moments seem to need dragging out a bit more, and others should be sped up or removed entirely (the lengthy hand-holding monologues being a prime example of this).
Still, there are some admirable aspects to Umma. Sandra Oh and Fivel Stewart do well with the material they’re given, and there’s a clear effort and vision from the director, despite the final product.
Despite the genre of the film, Umma fails to offer any real horror or scary moments. Much of it feels forced and too basic, lacking the true uniqueness that well-received modern horror films have. Sandra Oh is good as always, but it’s not enough to make up for the flaws of the film.
Images courtesy of Sony