31 Days of Horror: Umma (2022)

I was on a JetBlue flight to California for my pick yesterday (October 6), and my choices were severely limited. You would think with the month being October, they would have come up with some Halloween-themed programming. That was not the case. After some mad texting with my sister before takeoff, we settled on Umma since neither of us had seen it. Umma was a very short movie with Sandra Oh as the lead, who I love, and I was initially excited because the JetBlue notes said Sam Raimi directed the film. How odd, I thought. That’s something that ought to have been on my radar, a new Sam Raimi horror movie. But lies! He did not direct the movie—JetBlue must not use a fact checker for their programming notes. Instead, he produced it, which I found out later when I had proper Internet access. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQdXvvtu-iI

Somehow, sandwiched between five kids to the front and back of me, I started my movie about thirty minutes into the flight. And I was underwhelmed.

The adjectives I would apply to this movie overall are pale and thin. It’s a bit of a nothing story with Oh playing overprotective mother Amanda, who is a beekeeper making her money selling honey and doing quite well after a social media post goes viral. She has plans to expand the business with her daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart) to keep up with skyrocketing demand for the product, but Chris has other ideas for her future.

Amanda has a peculiar illness where she’s allergic to electricity, most likely stemming from abuse as there are several flashbacks with imagery of hands being electrocuted. That results in Chris and Amanda living in an old farmhouse lit by kerosene lamps, which gives the movie a beautiful, old-timey aesthetic. I’m not sure how they tend to all the other beekeeping and honey-making duties without electricity, but somehow, we’re led to believe that they get it done. Amanda does get help from her accountant and business partner Danny (Dermot Mulroney) who shoulders a good part of the work. He has a niece visiting him for the summer, River (Odeya Rush), who helps to show Chris what a normal young woman’s life looks like. Chris is socially awkward after being homeschooled by Amanda and has absorbed her fear of the outside world.

There are glimmers of real promise in Umma—some of the acting between Oh and Stewart are magical and crackled off my tiny JetBlue screen. I also appreciated the theme of filial piety and nods to Korean mythology. I got just a taste and wished there had been so much more. There just wasn’t enough story, I thought, for the whole movie to hang together. Iris K. Shim wrote and directed this film, and looking up her previous work, I’ve added her documentary The House of Suh to my list of movies to watch. I do hope she will write and direct another horror movie. She’s working with some wonderful elements, but I don’t think the big picture has been fully realized yet.

The rest of my weekend, I was fully immersed in my astrology retreat and didn’t watch any other horror movies, though I collected a lot of ideas. There was a huge contingent of horror movie fans at the event, and I’ve got a huge list of films and series on my To Be Watched list: Martyrs (2008), The Ritual, Kill List, The Dark and the Wicked, The Servant, and Trollhunter. Just when I think I’m well-versed in horror, I realize how much I still have to learn. So it looks like my 31 Days of Horror series will have to extend into November, but with the amount of titles I’m adding to my TBW list, I might have to turn this project into something larger. Maybe there’s 365 Days of Horror in me.

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