Almost 20 years after Dario Argento released the middle installment of his “Three Mothers Trilogy” he made the final installment of the series – Mother of Tears. As with most series that take this long between installments, there is a sense that what you’ll get with the final installment can never live up to what expectations you’ve set for it. However, even then, Mother of Tears is particularly disappointing.
The problems come up from the very beginning. Susperia and Inferno had a degree of visual flair to them that hits you from the very beginning of the film. They project this sense that you are stepping outside of reality to the world of the unreal – Susperia even more so than Inferno. All the elements of the presentation of the film – the music, lighting, framing, and sound design all worked together create this sense that the laws of reality don’t supply.
Mother of Tears, on the other hand, just looks so… mundane. All that creative use of color from the first two films? Gone. The really clever and inventive framing and use of miniatures and matte paintings? Almost completely absent until the end of the film. The one thing that’s left is the score – here by Goblin’s keyboardist Claudio Simonetti, along with his band Daemonica – which he basically formed as a metal cover band focusing on Goblin’s film scores – particularly the films they scored with Dario Argento.
Additionally, the first two films managed to avoid a lot of the more skeevy elements of the Giallo film. No rape scenes, no gratuitous nudity, no excessive use of the male gaze. The only shot from the first two that sticks out in my mind as seeming particularly sexualized is a shot from Suspiria where Suzy and Sara are getting into the pool in their swimsuits – and, well, let’s just say that the swimsuits are a little snug and it’s clearly pretty cold. In Mother of Tears on the other hand, as the title character spreads her malign magical influence (I’m getting to that), we get rape scenes. She and her followers are almost always either naked or mostly naked, and one of the murders they commit is particularly sexual.
This just leaves the film’s narrative. The first two films are generally grounded and localized in their stories – each of the Witches’ lairs being something of a Genius Loci – magically augmented to increase their powers. Mother of Tears, on the other hand, ups the scope in the intent of making it something climax to the trilogy, with the horror spreading beyond Rome into the rest of Italy, and with the followers of the Mother of Tears coming from across the world as she gathers her power. The first two films were about localized hubs of dangerous magical power. Mother of Tears is positively apocalyptic.
The plot has a mysterious “urn” (more like a casket) being unearthed in a town in northern Italy. In it is a selection of artifacts belonging to the Mother of Tears (Moran Atias). The assistant director of the museum receives it along with art restoration expert Sara Mandy (Asia Argento). However, the director cuts herself while opening the casket and then bleeds on the box, drawing three of the Mother’s minions and her baboon familiar – who kill (and eat) the Director and steal some of the artifacts. Sara, museum curator Michael Pierce (Adam James), and police detective Enzo Marchi (Cristian Solimeno) attempt to get to the bottom of this.
Through all of this, we get hordes of brutal murders, as more and more evil witches make their way to Rome. This leads to a bit of eye-rolling as universally these evil witches have costumes that I’d describe as “Goth as designed by someone who heard about Goth, but was pissed off by them enough that they refused to do further research on general principle.”
It’s kind of frustrating. I don’t know if the visual shift compared to the other two films was brought on by Argento either being persuaded or pressured not to use that visual style now – or if he tried it and didn’t look good with modern film in a modern camera. Also, the absence of Daria Nicolodi is clearly felt here. Her script for Susperia had some strongly written female characters, even if they weren’t narratively very deep, and even if she didn’t write the script for Inferno, I felt like her presence on the film provided something of a moderating influence.
However, Daria’s absence here in all respects makes the film feel like Argento’s more prurient impulses are now left unchecked. For example, with the exception of the assistant curator, every female character with a speaking role and a name in the film is a character who you see naked. Even the character played by Dario’s daughter.
All of that said – there are a few things I like about this movie. We have a clear and direct call-back to Susperia, making it clear that all three films in this series are not just tied to each other thematically, but also narratively. Consequently, the more apocalyptic tone kind of works here, because this is a film that is meant to be a narrative climax for the trilogy. As a fan of Call of Cthulhu, I feel like this series, as written, would almost make for a perfect little mini-campaign for that game, like a smaller version of Masks of Nyarlathotep.
However, as recommending this film is concerned – I can only really recommend it if you’re looking to finish the trilogy, either out of affinity for the first two films, or because you also are thinking about mining the trilogy for gaming ideas.
The film is available on DVD and streaming from Amazon.com. For purposes of this review, I watched the unrated cut, as that better represents Argento’s vision of the film. Purchasing anything through those links helps to support the site.
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