31 Days of Horror, Day 1: Umma
categories: 31 days of horror
Here we are again, another October, another 31 days of vaguely horror or Halloween-related content!
In the past several years I tried to get creative with this concept, adding books and other types of media (podcasts, music, video games, etc) along with recipes, creative writing exercises, and whatever else sounded interesting to throw into the mix, but this year I’m going to be sticking with the basics, I think. I’m tired. I very was sick for part of the summer, I’ve spent the last year finishing and promoting a book and then starting and mostly finishing another book, getting married, moving house, and as of just last week I made it through another hurricane. I’m not complaining about any of that, but my point is: I’m tired. I’m tired!
But also! Tradition! I’ve been doing this every year for the past few years and even though a majority of those 31-Days blog posts have appeared elsewhere and since disappeared into the ravenous maw of the internet (and I am too tired to hunt them down on archive.org and repost them here; I am just too physically and mentally tired, and on the whole, I am tired of giving my time and energy to places that eventually disappear) but anyway, you can find a few instances of past 31 Days content here if you do a search for “31” using my blog’s search functionality. You should be able to find some stuff going back to 2017, so I hope you poke around a bit!
Anyway, back to tradition. I do this every year, and I have fun picking out and putting together lists of old movies I haven’t yet seen, new movies I’ve been meaning to watch, or just really weird and obscure stuff that no one’s ever heard of (or, ok, well, maybe I’d never heard of them) so even if I am a little tired, I’m gonna do it, dangit! Some of them might end up being, like, two-sentence reviews, but hey, we’re not writing for Variety magazine over here.
So, in the vein of a movie I had heard of earlier in the year and which I had been looking forward to… first up is UMMA!
Sandra Oh plays Amanda, a first-generation Korean-American woman living on a piece of farmland in the middle of nowhere, selling local honey to wellness influencers, I guess? Apparently, someone on social media gave her a shoutout and now she can’t bottle the stuff fast enough. I bet it was Emily Mariko. She probably drizzled it on her salmon rice bowl. A weird thing is that Amanda has a condition where she can’t be around electricity. Sort of like Better Call Saul’s brother Chuck, who thought he suffered from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, I guess? Anyway, it’s more likely trauma from childhood, which we see in a few brief flashback sequences with Amanda suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her mother, and which involves a frayed electrical wire.
Amanda is living alone with her teenage daughter, and on the surface, they seem to have a loving relationship, and business is going great, but Amanda receives news from Korea in the form of a visitor carrying a suitcase and an urn. Her uncle has tracked Amanda down to inform her that her mother has died and to chastise her about familial duty and honoring her ancestors by giving her Umma (mother) a proper burial. At this point supernatural things start to happen, and there’s some creepy jump scares, and the story progresses along those lines, but I think maybe things would have begun unraveling with or without Amanda having to deal with her the abusive, pitiless ghost of her Umma. Generational trauma doesn’t require ghosties and heebie-jeebies, it’s horrifying and heartbreaking enough on its own. Amanda and her daughter Chrissy have been living in isolation for so long; Chrissy’s been in the dark (literally, I mean these people are using oil lamps) about her family, where she comes from, what her mother’s gone through, and she has no idea about any of this. All she knows is that her mother is her only friend–and that’s the way it’s always been. Amanda has kept Chrissy close and has built the bee business from the ground up, just for her, because she thinks they are in it together, probably forever. That Chrissy’s never going to leave. All of this would have eventually become a problem to be reckoned with or without Umma. I don’t even think this movie needed Umma, to be honest.
Also, while I won’t say that the film did not need the appearance of the kumiho, or 9-tailed fox spirit…I think there could have been more explanation given as to its significance or a bit more context for it, or maybe just chosen some more appropriate moments for it to show up? I could be missing something here. Am I being nitpicky about this? Or maybe just ignorant? Both?
Sam Raimi’s name is attached to this film, and I think if you go into it expecting some sort of Sam Raimi spectacle, you will be sorely disappointed. If you want to see Sandra Oh in a horror movie though, you’ll probably not have a bad time. If you are looking to find it, I watched UMMA on Netflix.
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Interested in the performances. Does Sandra Oh do more than her usual breathy surprise / sudden anger jag?
S. Elizabeth says
Hrm. I wish I had thought to pay attention to this. I bet you could find at least a third emote in this film? But...maybe not more than that...