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With: Sandra Oh, Fivel Stewart, Dermot Mulroney, Odeya Rush, MeeWha Alana Lee, Tom Yi
Written by: Iris K. Shim
Directed by: Iris K. Shim
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror, brief strong language and some thematic elements
Running Time: 83
Date: 03/18/2022

Umma (2022)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ma Gnaw

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Even if it gets a little pedestrian and makes one or two rookie mistakes, this chiller gets points for some good, scary moments, its touching performances, and its representation of Korean culture.

Amanda (Sandra Oh) and her sixteen-year-old daughter Chrissy (Fivel Stewart) live a remote, happy life, raising bees and selling honey on their farm. They must avoid electricity, which makes Amanda sick, so their existence is quiet and organic. Their only contact with the outside world is Danny (Dermot Mulroney), who sells the honey and delivers supplies.

One day Amanda's uncle arrives from Korea with the news that her mother has died. He leaves a suitcase containing her ashes and some of her things. Amanda begins seeing ghosts and hearing her mother's voice, threatening her that they shall always be together. As Chrissy begins to entertain thoughts of going away to college, the ghost becomes more malevolent. To stop it, Amanda must face the secrets of her terrible past.

A feature directing debut by Iris K. Shim, Umma — which is Korean for "mother" — has some confusing timeline issues around the backstory, revolving around who moved where, when. An appearance of a "kumiho," a many-tailed fox, is made from woefully bad, cheap-looking CGI. Some of the scares are routine, and some of the beats are a bit too familiar, especially in the final third. But there's enough left to make the movie worth a look.

Oh gives a very strong performance, carrying fear and anxiety in her face in a way that makes it feel deeply nestled, and part of her daily routine. Even as Amanda begins to go off the rails, the performance is organic. And Stewart matches her; they have great mother-daughter chemistry together. Mulroney adds a calm support to the picture, and Odeya Rush — as Danny's niece River — has a couple of good scenes with Chrissy, and some funny line readings.

Additionally, the scares in the early parts of the movie are eerily effective, especially one that wakes Amanda up during a lightning storm. Finally, the depictions of Korean life and rituals feel honest and are most welcome. Considering all this, Umma is a-parent-ly worth a look.

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