To be honest, it’s quite difficult to convey just how disappointing Dario Argento’s most recent film, The Mother of Tears, actually is. Now, to call this long-awaited is an understatement: rumours have abounded about the final part of the ‘three mothers’ trilogy since, well, since the second part, Inferno, was released back in 1980. In the intervening 25 odd years, Argento’s continued making films, all of which are released to a fanfare of expectation, and most of which have been getting gradually worse and worse. In the last decade or so, he’s made one half decent film, Sleepless, and an assortment of embarassing tosh (The Card Player, The Phantom of the Opera). The Mother of Tears was hoped to see a return to form… well, it sure as hell doesn’t.
The plot? Well, amazingly it took five people to write this rubbish. As well as Argento himself, there was also Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch (whose collaborative CV boasts such ‘masterpieces’ as Crocodile, Spiders, Rats and, err, Crocodile 2), regular Argento writer Walter Fasano (The Card Player) and Simona Simonetti. While excavating a graveyard, workmen dig up an urn containing some bizarre figurines. The priest sends it to a friend, Micheal (Adam James), who works at a Museum in Rome and is an expert on the occult. Before he can examine it, though, his ditzy assistants, Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) and Sarah (Asia Argento) open it up. Immediately a bunch of weirdos and a monkey appear out of nowhere, eviscerate Giselle and strangle her with her own intestines. Yeah, cool, huh? Well, if you’re 15, maybe.
Anyway, meanwhile a bunch of witches (i.e. ridiculous looking idiots who look like tragically unhip goths crossed with Cyndi Lauper) are all converging on Rome, and the population at large seems to be entering some kind of mass pschosis. It seems that the Mother of Tears has awoken, and her influence is bringing about the ‘second age of witches’ or some such malarkey. The only person who can stop it is Sarah, who herself has unknown magical powers – but the Mother is on to her, and has a bone to pick: Sarah’s mother had helped destroy her sister (supposedly prior to the events portrayed in the first film of the series, Suspiria).
God, this is crap. It’s becoming increasingly hard to remember that Argento first made his name as a scriptwriter, because as time has gone on his scripts have been getting more and more ludicrous. OK, take it as given that the ‘Mothers’ films are going to have their own kind of nightmare logic, and picking holes in them for plot reasons is a futile exercise, but… this really is nonsense. And, worse, it’s insultingly naff, banal nonsense. There are, maybe, a couple of interesting conceits: the idea of Rome ‘going mad’, particularly, is curious and gives rise to a couple of moderately well done scenes (much more could have been made of this). But so much of this feels like it’s been written by Argento at his slackest and, well, Beavis and Butthead, frankly. Why oh why hasn’t some enterprising producer just sat him down to work with a decent writer? Maybe even give him a good novel to work with?
That said, even his direction feels lacklustre here. All the bravado seems to have disappeared – there are no scenes to compare to, say, the underwater sequence from Inferno or the opening drive through the woods in Suspiria – and, as with The Card Player, it feels more like a TV movie with added gore. What’s more, it feels like the film of an old man trying to appeal to a young audience. The sequences with the ‘witches’ are just laughable. What was he thinking? Whay didn’t someone just say, ‘erm, look Dario, that';s just a bit naff’. I’m sorry, but a bunch of prancing fashionistas with backcombed hair and stupid make-up are simply not scary, no matter how much they his at people or do their Torture Garden’ style S&M stuff. And the ending? Where the suposedly indestructible Mother is destroyed by… having her t-shirt ripped off!
I actually put the blame for all this firmly at the door of Asia Argento. In recent years she’s appeared in just about the only poor film George A Romero has ever made (Land of the Dead), one of the single worst action films (XXX), the hugely overrated Marie Antoinette and several ‘edgy’ productions that are nigh unwatchable and most of which she’s directed as well (The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, Scarlet Diva). I fear she’s the one who Dario has turned to for advice in connecting him to a younger audience, which is frankly like asking advice on youth culture from Peaches Geldoff. In fact, nobody emerges from this with much credit, with the exception perhaps of the hammy udo Kier, who at least looks like he’s having fun, and Philippe Leroy, who lights up the screen as soon as he appears. Hero Christian Solimeno (from Footballer’s Wives!) appears to be half asleep, Adam James (from Casualty) is moderately OK and Moran Atias makes for an idiotic, half naked Mother Tenebrarum