I chose the moment of actually taking my seat in the cinema to decide that I wasn’t really in the mood for a horror movie. There’s so much dread from just existing these days that paying money to sit in a dark room for the privilege feels excessive and borderline idiotic when the news is available at home for free. Thankfully, though, this ended up being pretty far from a horror movie although it did manage to fill me with unease.

The movie opens with a brief, expositionary prologue in Korean where a child is punished with bare electrical wires by her mother, the Umma of the title. We skip forward a number of years and are properly introduced to Amanda (Sandra Oh) and her teenaged daughter, Chris (Fivel Stewart), who are living a life off the grid on an Arizona farm where they make award-winning organic honey from the bees they keep. There’s a sense straight out the gate that all is not well for Amanda. She is haunted by memories of her abusive mother, determined to avoid generational trauma when it comes to her own daughter. When she’s visited by Danny (Dermot Mulroney, who you may remember as Gavin from Friends, as well as everything ever released, it seems), the local store owner and seller of Amanda’s honey, he’s careful to park a distance from the farm, storing his turned-off cell phone and watch in the glove compartment. It’s all a bit Better Call Saul.

In an unflinchingly obvious nod to the prologue, Amanda claims to have an illness where she is essentially allergic to electricity. Chris has been dealing with this for years so doesn’t quite realize how unconventional her life is as she wanders around her home by gaslight, sans Phone, and sans friends. She has designs to apply for college, which would mean separating from her mother. Amanda is then visited by a very old-school uncle who has tracked her down from Korea to inform her that her mother died some months ago, and he delivers her a box with her mother’s ashes and various cherished belongings. Amanda was already haunted by her abusive mother before her death, and this only intensifies now, as she says, they are in the same room together again. The haunted moments increase and we’re left to guess, as Chris becomes more curious and involved with the box, whether the haunting is done by Amanda’s mother, or Amanda herself, and why Amanda didn’t just throw the stupid box away as soon as she got it.

Considering that Sam Raimi is a producer, it’s surprising how by the numbers the whole affair is. This is director Iris K Shim’s first feature and she also gets the sole writing credit. As a debut horror, she gets a lot of the basics right. The cast and locations are very much running on the bare minimum and there isn’t an overreliance on fancy CGI. It’s a pretty basic affair with very little left to distract. Sadly, this leaves problems with the story on view for all to see.

Occasional fleeting moment of interest notwithstanding, it’s really dull. Like, really dull. And it’s a bit of a shame because it’s still possible to watch the movie and see what it could’ve been. There’s a touching family drama in here that’s not fully developed. There’s a potentially interesting gaze toward what it means to be an immigrant, as Amanda’s mother was, following a husband to a foreign land where she doesn’t speak the language and is too old to learn. There’s the ties that bind trope which we know very well is suited to the genre (Hereditary, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Psycho etc). There’s the seismic cultural shock as old-world clashes with new. But it just doesn’t work on any of these levels, and it doesn’t even seem to try. It just plods on through at a single, dreary pace until it’s done.

The score thinks the movie is terrifying. If you were to just listen to the soundtrack and keep your eyes shut, it might even generate a jump or two out of you. Eyes open, though, and everything is signposted in neon with a guy employed to spin an arrow around standing right next to it. The denouement plays out like a first draft that Shim forgot to fix later. And at a mere 83 minutes, I’ve never been more sure that this was once much longer but it’s been cut back to the bone and as a result feels very disjointed. Fun fact, Raimi’s The Evil Dead clocked in under 90 minutes too. Drag Me To Hell wasn’t much longer. This couldn’t be further from both.

It’s a shame, really. Sandra Oh is as watchable as ever. Fivel Stewart, who I haven’t seen in anything, is great. It’s proof that bad acting can kill a good story, but there’s not much anyone can do to salvage anything from a bad ghost story that isn’t remotely scary.