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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Argento Week: Mother of Tears
So, Mother of Tears. I almost hate to review it, because here I am, setting up this week about how great Argento films are, and his most recent release is absolutely terrible. A lot of the blame can be chalked up to "sequel-itis." You see, in Suspiria, Argento set up this back-story about the Three Mothers: Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs), Mater Tenebrarum (the Mother of Darkness) and Mater Lachrimarum (the Mother of Tears). The Three Mothers are extremely powerful witches who essentially created black magic because they got bored one day. In Suspiria, American dance student Suzy Banyon destroys Mater Suspiriorum pretty much by accident. In Inferno American music student Mark Elliot, while investigating his sister's mysterious disappearance, accidentally destroys Mater Tenebrarum. In Mother of Tears, however, American art restorer Sarah Mandy (which is hard to tell, because Asia Argento is utterly incapable of maintaining an American accent) accidentally releases Mater Lachrimarum from imprisonment, beginning a series of calamitous events that nearly destroys the world and results in the deaths of...well, pretty much every single character in the film save two.
Really, Dario? A demon in the camera? You're going to start the film with a "gotcha" scare?
The primary problem with the film is one of tone: there isn't one. Well, no, that's not entirely fair. There is no suspense to the film. There's none of the surreal dream logic that characterized Suspiria. Instead we get a disjointed series of events, punctuated by extreme gore. Yes, extreme gore, even by the standards of an Argento film, a director who has never been particularly squeamish about showing brutal and inventive methods of murder. It's almost as if Argento looked at the contemporary marketplace for horror films and decided to make something that would sell, not something that would actually cap off the story begun in Suspiria. Mother of Tears has more of Saw or Hostel to it than films like Tenebrae or Deep Red.
Never get blood on the mystic artifacts, kids.
Plot-wise, the film runs along rather confused lines. A mysterious casket is unearthed at a monastery. The casket, decorated with mystical sigils, is sent to an archaeological museum to be researched. While there, the casket is opened by two assistants, one of them Sarah, and the other disemboweled in short order by three demons while Sarah is chased through the museum by a monkey. She escapes only when a mysterious voice opens locked doors, allowing her to escape. The police, understandably, are skeptical of her story. Meanwhile, the contents of the casket are claimed by a witch-cult worshipping Mater Lachrimarum, and a wave of violence and murder begins to sweep through Rome. Sarah's boss/lover Michael tries to discover the history of the casket, finding that it contains the emblems of Mater Lachrimarum's power. Underage prostitutes begin following Michael as he comes closer to finding out who took the casket and he soon finds that his son has been kidnapped by witches. It's at this point that Sarah starts to come off as a bit of a dolt, as she refuses to see any connections between the casket, the waves of violence, and the murder of her co-worker.
The forces of Evil, or Lufthansa flight attendants?
More witches begin arriving in Rome as the cult's power grows and Sarah starts researching the appearances of trinities in occult history. Michael disappears while attempting to find an exorcist, prompting Sarah to search for him, cleverly outwitting the emo-est witches in the world in a train-station, escaping only by finding an inventive use for a sliding door and her previously unknown ability to turn invisible. Yes, really. And that's the point where any pretense of logic flees the film in search of greener pastures. Sarah tracks down an exorcist, only to get him killed. She gets help from a lesbian good witch, only to get her killed. She finds Michael, who's now a zombie. She finds an alchemist who knows the history of the Three Mothers and how to destroy them, only to get him killed. And all along, the ghost of her mother, a good witch who imprisoned Mater Suspiriorum, thus weakening her enough for a dancer to kill, gives her pretty much useless advice consistently too late to be of much use.
Witchcraft training looks remarkably like weird lesbian foreplay.
After a fairly interminable period of wandering around, Sarah and the one competent cop in Rome discover the hiding place of Mater Lachrimarum and her coven. Argento pulls out all the stops, here. He wants to create a Boschian nightmare of debauchery and depravity and evil, but the end result is...silly. Like an episode of Red Shoe Diaries crossed with Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose. And at the end of all things, the Mother of Tears is defeated...because she kept all her power in an object that burns easily. Of course, our heroine has to endure at least one more disgusting, humiliating scene before she's allowed to escape and enjoy her near-coincidental and almost completely accidental triumph. It's almost as if the witch-cult gave Sarah the power to defeat them, as frankly just about anyone could have given the nature of their destruction.
Yes, Asia, this is the crap in your dad's head.
Really, it's a downright tragedy that this is how Argento has chosen to end the storyline begun in Suspiria. In hindsight, neither follow-up was really necessary or contributed to the effectiveness of the original (nor, do I suspect, will the long-discussed remake of Suspiria that threatens to be made every few years).
Not even lots of shots of Italian men in suits can save this film.
Tomorrow: Suspiria gets the treatment it's always deserved!