Umma (CREDIT: Saeed Adyani/Sony Pictures); X (CREDIT: Christopher Moss/A24)

Umma:

Starring: Sandra Oh, Fivel Stewart, Dermot Mulroney, Odeya Rush, MeeWha Alana Lee, Tom Yi

Director: Iris K. Shim

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Terrifying Memories and a Terrifying Present

Release Date: March 18, 2022 (Theaters)

X:

Starring: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, James Gaylyn

Director: Ti West

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Plenty of Sex and Violence

Release Date: March 18, 2022 (Theaters)

This week, we’ve got a couple of new horror releases arriving with pithy, vague titles. They pair well as a potential double feature, so I decided to go ahead and review them together. They’re also both operating in familiar subgenres with their own unique flourishes that you may or may not see coming. Let’s dig in.

First off, we’ll take a look at Umma, which to English speakers might sound like baby-talk. In a way it kind of is, but anyone who knows Korean will surely clock what’s in store. Starring Sandra Oh as a single mother named Amanda who lives alone with her daughter (Fivel Stewart) in an electricity-free home, this is one of those supernatural tales in which a ghost attaches to a person’s soul and just won’t let go. The East Asian pedigree suggests a throwback to the early 2000s when The Ring and The Grudge inaugurated a wave of J- and K-horror. But while those influences are certainly noticeable, a story of what we owe and inherit from our mothers resonates across cultures.

The scares kick into high gear when Amanda is visited by her uncle, who gives her a suitcase containing what’s been left behind by her recently deceased mother. Appropriately enough, the horror is based more around emotional scars rather than what goes bump in the night (although there’s plenty of that as well). That emphasis on the human element also leads to the most surprising development, as the conflict between Amanda and her daughter plays out in rather histrionic melodrama that feels like it would be more at home in a Lifetime movie. I’m hesitant to call that a misstep, because I wouldn’t be shocked if that tonal shift was intentional. But it is a sudden departure into camp that enveloped my whole viewing experience. And honestly, that feeling’s probably not too different than what Amanda experiences with her mother’s ghost.

Overall, X is easier to parse in terms of how it deviates from expectations. Fans of writer-director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) will know to expect some genre playfulness. But that doesn’t change the fact that the beginning of this movie feels like little more than a Texas Chainsaw Massacre knockoff, as a crew of young people in 1979 head out from Houston en route to a remote farm where the crickets roar and the sweat reigns supreme. These characters are at least a bit more entrepreneurial than an average slasher’s, as they set out to produce an adult film that they hope will be just as successful as something like Deep Throat. But the shotgun-toting owner of the property where they’re staying (as well as the mutilated cow on the road) ensures that the regular buckets of blood are on their way.

So we know that everyone is going to be picked off one by one, and we know that there will probably be a Final Girl, but the ways in which all that happens are often unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Who will be behind the carnage? Will it be the old farmer himself? Could it somehow be his frail but shockingly horny wife? Or is it the alligators that resent these sexually liberated city folks the most? In the meantime, there is plenty of philosophizing about what it means to be a pornographer. And there’s also a streak of religiosity, with several shots of a fire-and-brimstone TV preacher. Altogether, it makes for a paradoxical viewing journey of always knowing what’s going to happen but never knowing quite how it’s going to happen.

Grades:
Umma: 3 out of 5 Suitcases
X: 3.5 out of 5 Shotguns