Reviewed by Plagiarize
Starring Asia Argento, Cristian Solimeno, Adam James, Coraline Cataldi-Tassoni, Daria Nicolodi
Directed by Dario Argento
It was becoming pretty obvious before I even saw it that Mother of Tears (The Third Mother or La Terza Madre) wasn’t the glorious return to form for Dario Argento that we’ve been hoping to get for the last two decades. While not without redeeming features, it is unquestionably the worst of the Three Mothers trilogy, overly contrived and lacking the visual flair that made the original two stand out in the first place.
There isn’t anything wrong with the cinematography here. In fact, it’s all quite good; it just isn’t distinct. Perhaps Argento felt he couldn’t return to that old style without appearing to be a poor imitation of himself. Only people hoping for a visual feast will be disappointed, but can you imagine Suspiria or Inferno having to stand on the strengths of their stories?
The dreamlike logic (or lack there of) has been tossed out with the dreamlike visuals. Instead we get a story that is overly reliant on coincidences and exposition.
A chest is unearthed after being buried for hundreds of years. This is sent to Michael (played rather well by Adam James) in Rome, who just happens to be working with a student from America, Sarah Mandy (Argento), who just happens to have been orphaned by one of the previous mothers. Oh, she also happens to have some latent psychic powers, making her the only person that could stop Mater Lachrymarum when she steals a magic tunic from the chest.
The story is nonsense, which isn’t anything particularly unusual for Dario Argento’ it’s just lacking in mystery, and far too much time is spent exploring both the chest’s contents and the history of the mothers.
Then you have a ridiculously silly subplot involving Sarah’s psychic powers, which ultimately goes nowhere. She is told that she needs to develop them in order to fight the last Mother, and spends some time tracking down the person to help her do just that … and yet in her confrontation with the final Mother, she doesn’t do a single mystical thing. It would help, too, if the thread involving her own mother talking to her from beyond the grave didn’t end up involving her Mother manifesting herself like a female Ben Kenobi, horribly realized with some awful computer graphics. The film isn’t overly drenched in CGI fortunately because what is there is rather bad with one pointed exception.
The last act is the strongest visually, with some minor hints of the kind of Technicolor worlds of previous films, but a minor character is suddenly thrust on us as if he was a male lead all along, and the resolution is brief and dramatically unsatisfying.
And yet, the film isn’t a total wash; there are some effective set pieces that remind you of what Argento could do. After all, Suspiria was really just a collection of incredible set pieces lashed together as best as possible into a story. When the film isn’t waffling on about history, or wasting time with “go to the Dagobah system” moments, there’s some good stuff. The early scenes in the museum are great, and there are some great scenes of chaos descending on Rome as Mater Lachrymarum gains power. There’s a wonderfully tense moment with Sarah climbing the staircase in her apartment building. When characters lives are in direct peril, Dario comes to life and that old spark is back.
You get a sense that he was bored planning and directing the scenes and dialogue to drive the story forward. No wonder the performances are patchy. Of course, Udo Kier is wonderful, but the actors that require direction feel like barometers for how enthusiastic Dario was that day.
It’s been said that the project has been too long coming, that the motivation to complete his trilogy came not from finally getting the right script or the right cast or crew, but from wanting to return to the well that turned him into an icon, to try and recapture the respect of the past.
That may well be. The story isn’t inspiring. The cast is decent overall, if a mixed bag. The cinematography is good but artless in comparison to previous high points. The direction is mostly pedestrian, but as soon as it’s time to scare the audience, there’s Dario: covered in fake blood and grinning as he sees his twisted ideas realized in front of him.
Sergio Stivaletti, the Italian Greg Nicotero, can still make me cringe like few other make-up effects artists. His realizations of Dario’s twisted kills are wonderful. Dario is still coming up with beautifully horrible moments of torture and death. And when Cladio Simonetti’s music swells, you know you’re watching three Italian legends working together in harmony.
Mother of Tears is not the glorious return to form that we’ve all been hoping to get for the last two decades, but it has made me believe that Dario Argento hasn’t lost that talent of his and that if nothing else, it is the best indication we shouldn’t give up hope yet.
2 1/2 out of 5
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