REVIEW: ‘Umma’ Reminds Me Why I Love PG-13 Theater Horror

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Umma - But Why Tho

Being afraid of becoming your mom is a thing, even if your mom was great. Umma takes this concept, and looks at the generational trauma that lies beneath it all, and how even in death the trauma stays with you. And it’s an effective look to varying degrees. Written and directed by Umma stars Sandra Oh, Fivel Stewart, Dermot Mulroney, MeeWha Alana Lee, and Odeya Rush.

In Umma, Amanda and her daughter Chris live a quiet life on a non-descript American farm without any of life’s modern electrical comforts. They sell honey and rely on help from Danny to stay in contact with the outside world. For Amanda, it’s the perfect mother-daughter bonding. From homeschooling to running their honey business, they do absolutely everything together, more friends than parent and child in some ways. But for Chris, the isolation has begun to take its toll as she starts to look toward college as a way to finally make friends and move beyond their farm.

Now, it isn’t because their relationship is bad, it’s because their relationship is the only one she has – outside of her conversations with Danny. Instead, Chris holds onto her feelings, hiding her college plans and hopes from her mom to spare her feelings. But when the remains of Amanda’s estranged mother arrive from Korea, she becomes haunted by the fear of turning into her mother. With the ominous words from her uncle hanging over her, that her mother will always get what she wants, Amanda spirals downward as she revisits her trauma. But her exploration may not just be in her head as visions of her mother grow in intensity.

Umma is a PG-13 theater horror and with that comes all of the bright spots and all of the pitfalls. For starters, the film is awkwardly placed, running through acts quickly that diminish the intensity of them. While the film’s 94-minute runtime is great, the story that Shim tells seems like its missing to be missing parts. Umma moves too quickly through the pain and instead focuses on using the well-established elements of the genre to turn everything into scares.

This isn’t to say that the jump scares aren’t all effective some are, but the focus on hissing strings and a woman in the window don’t quite balance out the story. In fact, much of the horror trappings do more to distract from the core issue, which is the emotional damage that Amanda suffered as a child and is now burying in her own daughter without realizing it. From the gimmicks to the opening credits, Umma feels like a 2000s horror film.

And this isn’t terrible.

While Umma does suffer from a breakneck speed and loads of horror gimmicks, it was somehow a magical experience to be sitting watching it in a theater. Now, the pandemic is still raging and with a new subvariant on the rise, I’m not advocating for everyone to return to theaters. Yet, Umma reminded me of why I love the PG-13 theater horror that has been fairly absent with the push from more arthouse films. Umma’s strength is that its rating allows two generations to watch it together and its more traditional take on the supernatural makes it accessible to even those not big into the genre.

Umma isn’t perfect and it really doesn’t have to be. In its mistakes, I’m reminded of what makes theater horror a blast. From a short runtime to a stellar actress acting her heart out to do the most with a script doing the least, Umma is what I’ve been missing from horror. A quick film with a great character, and some solid jumps. Is it great? No. But it is well worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of films set in The Conjuring Universe or that graced the screen in the early aughts.

Umma is playing now nationwide.


Umma
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    Rating - 5.5/10
5.5/10

TL;DR

Umma isn’t perfect and it really doesn’t have to be. In its mistakes, I’m reminded of what makes theater horror a blast. From a short runtime to a stellar actress acting her heart out to do the most with a script doing the least, Umma is what I’ve been missing from horror. A quick film with a great character, and some solid jumps. Is it great? No. But it is well worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of films set in The Conjuring Universe or that graced the screen in the early aughts.