Mother of Tears
by Jason Coffman
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It’s been a long, long wait for horror fans, but Dario Argento has finally completed his Three Mothers trilogy, which began with Suspiria and continued with Inferno. Argento is one of the most well-respected horror filmmakers still working today—his first film as director, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, was released in 1970, just two years after his contemporary and sometimes collaborator George Romero released Night of the Living Dead. It seems like an odd coincidence that both Romero and Argento have returned this year with highly anticipated new installments in long-lived film series; the fact that each film is disappointing in its own way is perhaps inevitable.
Mother of Tears opens with the discovery in an old church cemetery: workers find a body buried outside the walls of the cemetery and buried with a strange box of artifacts. The church sends the box off to Rome to be investigated by Michael Pierce (Adam James), an expert on occult history. Before Michael can get to it, the box is opened by his museum coworkers Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) and Sarah (Asia Argento). In short order, an evil monkey (!) appears along with a woman and three demonic figures who dispatch Giselle and set Sarah off on a course with her mysterious past while Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias) gathers all the witches in the world to Rome to begin the new Age of Witches.
While Suspiria and Inferno were strange and nightmarish, defined by garish colors and surreal set pieces, Mother of Tears jettisons any sense of dreamy atmosphere, instead aiming directly for gory shock. Like Diary of the Dead, Argento seems content to use a sledgehammer where previously he would have wielded a scalpel: Romero’s Diary… found the writer/director underestimating his audience for perhaps the first time in his career, constantly returning to the same ideas and phrases to pound his point home. In Mother of Tears, Argento relies mostly on lazy jump-scares and crude (if effective) displays of explicit violence instead of the carefully-orchestrated suspense of his best work.
There are numerous legitimate complaints to lodge against Mother of Tears, not least its use of some truly awful CG effects (which ratchet up the film’s cheese factor substantially), and the fact that all the witches in the movie look like they were dressed for a 1980s goth-rock video. Additionally, there’s the fact that, like a lot of mid- to late-period Argento films starring Asia, the creepiest scene in the movie is the shower scene where the camera lingers on her nude body. The acting is all over the place, with Asia doing her best to hold it together while the rest of the cast runs the gamut from bored and distracted to insane overacting, and the film’s finale is inarguably silly (which is bad enough) and severely anticlimactic (which is worse).
Still, Argento fans horror fans in general will find flashes of promise that Mother of Tears could have been something more. There are some brief shots of depraved goings-on in the catacombs of the film’s finale, sadly not explored enough to give anything more than a hint that Argento wanted to stage some images like the ones found in the medieval paintings of the tortures of the damned that run through the opening credits montage. There are a few genuinely shocking moments of sadistic violence, imaginative death scenes that threaten to restore some of the nightmarish tone of the other Three Mothers films. Ultimately, Mother of Tears is little more than an especially gruesome late-period Argento film, and still more interesting than almost anything he has done in the last decade.
Jason Coffman is a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.
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