(director/writer: Iris K. Shim; cinematographer: Matt Flanery; editors: Louis Cioffi, Kevin Greutert; music: Roque Banos; cast: Sandra Oh (Amanda), Fivel Stewart (Chris), MeeWha Alana Lee (Amanda’s Mother), Tom Yi (Amanda’s Uncle), Odeya Rush (River), Dermot Mulroney (Danny); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers; Sam Raimi, Zainab Azizi: Sony Pictures Releasing; 2022-S. Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)

“A disappointing psychological horror pic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Umma is Korean for mommy. It’s the debut feature from the Korean filmmaker Iris K. Shim. It’s an allegorical supernatural horror film, where the Sandra Oh character fears she’s turning into her own mother. If not for Oh, this would be unwatchable.

Amanda (Sandra Oh) is a Korean American woman who lives a quiet life off-the-grid after she has escaped from her difficult abusive past at the hands of her mother (Meewha Alana Lee).

Candles are used to light the house because mom tortured her with frayed wires as a child, thereby electricity is not used. Amanda is raising a precocious daughter, Chrissy (Fivel Stewart), whom she’s very close to, on a remote farm, where they harvest honey and package it themselves to give to their friend Danny (Dermot Mulroney) to sell at his shop.

One day her Korean-speaking uncle (Tom Yi) brings her the news of her estranged mother’s death. Uncle warns her that if not properly consecrated, mom could become a “gwishin,” a ghost that remains unfulfilled in this world. Amanda thereby hides her despised mother’s trunk, but she leaves her mother’s cremated ashes in the farmhouse. Soon the entire house creaks, doors rattle, curtains stir, and the bees go into a tizzy.

The completely Americanized Amanda has completely rejected Korean lore because of her reactions to her mom. The film’s scariest scenes are when Amanda tries to keep a blossoming Chrissy under tow. But the teenager Chrissy has befriended Danny’s same-aged niece River (Odeya Rush), which angers her mother and causes friction in their relationship.

Unfortunately the predictable script, its too neat of a resolution and the film’s lack of depth, refusing to explore matters beyond what is superficial, relegate it to a disappointing psychological horror pic. It never allows one of our more expressive actresses (who nevertheless gives a great performance) to go off and become as expressive as the story demands.