“I swore I’d never be like my mother!”
It’s easy enough to say, and you can substitute “father” if you want. Mostly they’re just words, and they don’t help.
The central point of terror in Umma (Korean word for “Mama”) is the idea of inherited sin, and how kids are rotten fruit from a poison tree.
As conceived by Iris K. Shim, Umma is a ghost story about being haunted by your own family. Unlike the trend toward pitch-black horizons these days, Shim’s feature maintains its grace despite grim subject matter, and even offers a glimmer of hope.
Amanda (Sandra Oh), an agoraphobic beekeeper, raises her daughter Chris (Fivel Stewart) on a lovely, spacious farm, where electricity (phones, TVs, you name it) is forbidden.
Like all the other threads in the movie, it traces back to Amanda’s tortured childhood and the abuse she suffered at the hand of a mean, unstable mother (MeeWha Alana Lee).
Their idyllic existence gets upended by the arrival of a suitcase containing her mother’s remains, which coincides with the manifestation of her angry ghost, who proceeds to torment Amanda from the grave.
As if life weren’t stressful enough, she also discovers that Chris wants to leave the analog farm and go to college! The pressure to maintain her equilibrium overpowers Amanda, and that’s how the ghost gets in.
Filmmaker Shim isn’t afraid to tackle touchy subjects, and Amanda’s plight is pretty much universal, trying to shelter her own daughter from the worst family traits—even as she gains insight by subletting her soul to a mother’s rage.
In Umma, it isn’t curses or cannibalism that’s passed on, but fear and resentment. You know, real shit.
Pro Tip: Acceptance is your best option when confronted with an angry ghost.