Reading some of the reviews out there for Mother of Tears, you’d expect it to be an unwatchable wreck of a film that actually causes physical pain to behold.
It’s nowhere near that bad, and I can’t quite tell if the vitriol delivered to it is from Argento purists who are reacting at how badly much of the directors’ later output has dropped in quality, or if it’s from people who never liked him in the first place revelling in the same downfall.
So to put it simply: yes, Mother of Tears is a bad film. But it’s most certainly not as bad as some would have you believe.
In fact, if you can overlook its inferiority in the wake of Inferno but especially in the wake of Suspiria, then what you have is a really enjoyably bad horror movie that’s got the camp factor turned way up, albeit unintentionally.
If one of the largest problems with Inferno is that it had too little in the way of plot, the problem with Mother of Tears is possibly that it has too much plot to fit into a moderate running time. The movie literally starts with things happening straight away and never gives up this relentless pacing into new scenes and information reveals. It means that the movie moves quickly, but it also means that you repeatedly find yourself going “wait, why is this happening?” and retracing the steps it took to get there.
The basic plot covers Mater Lacrymarum’s return to power after certain relics (including a shroud she grew out of years ago) are found in an “urn” (which sure just looked like a box to me) that’s been buried in a cemetery for years.
Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) works at an art museum where the “urn” (box) is sent for investigation and she and her colleague not only it open and explore the contents, but awaken the demons within. It’s not really clear in the movie if this actually unleashes the Third Mother or if she’s been in hiding for ages and this just marks the time she decides to reawaken, but I believe the movie thinks that the colleague cutting herself on the urn (box) and bleeding on it awakens the demons art the very least. So anyway, there’re demons and the colleague is murdered nastily. Sarah runs away, but is soon a suspect of the police, as well as the target of a whole horde of black witches who are flocking to Rome to pledge their loyalty to the newly awakened mother, and to begin the second fall of Rome.
The actual scope of the plot is impressive, and I like the sense of peril the movie does create with the idea of the “second fall of Rome.” As seen through the many murders, suicides and crimes in the city streets as the movie goes on, it actually manages to create a surprisingly convincing sense of global frenzy, or at the very least, convincing for how moderately budgeted a movie this clearly was. Also, it’s nice to see Asia Argento in a semi-decent role. Semi.
But it’s not a good movie. The problem with the film constantly rushing through its scenes is that you can’t really track the crisis as it unfolds around the protagonist. You’re never sure exactly what the stakes are at any certain point in time, and the movie never stops to fill you in on significant details. As a result, the film constantly feels like it’s playing out its introduction, rather than focussing on the plot properly.
Also, it’s hard to tell what the hell is actually happening a lot of the time, just due to the lighting. The first murder, Sarah’s colleague in the gallery, clearly has some nasty stuff happen to her, but it’s not clear exactly what that is, and not in a “more terrifying by only suggesting it” sort of way, in the “we failed to light this scene” sort of way. And that happens a fair bit through other points in the story.
But the biggest problem with the film is what it does to the witches. Mater Suspiriorum (Helena Markos from Suspiria) is meant to be the wisest, so perhaps it makes sense that she has a coven working in secret, made of teachers that you never shouldn’t suspect. Mater Tenebrarum (from Inferno) is meant to be the youngest and cruellest of the mothers, but she still has a sense of nobility to her actions. There’s an old-school sense of witchcraft as a force in these movies.
These are the witches of Mother of Tears:
They actually show off how evil they are by walking around in large groups, constantly cackling. Argento has reduced the black mages of the night, these wielders of the dark powers and mistresses of the dark arts, into…a group of Goth ASBOS on their way to a Nu-Metal concert.
And the titular mother herself, Mater Lacrymarum, is just a bore. She shows up for a scene and a half, is defeated ridiculously easily and there’s no sense of significance to her as a being in and of herself. She just seems like another one of the witches.
It’s disappointing, because the surrounding scenes, dealing with the characters who are working to defeat the mother are much more interesting than the scenes dealing with her in person. In those scenes, she’s an actual threat, off-screen. When she’s on screen, it’s kind of “meh.”
However, I feel it prudent to point at that these flaws are mainly in the wake of my enjoyment
of Inferno and my utter, undying love of Suspiria. I admit my bias, but the problem with this film is that it doesn’t live up to its legacy.
There’s none of that heightened, theatrical performance of the golden age of Argento. There’s no elaborate setpieces, there’s no scene that’s in the movie purely for how goddamned cool it is, none of his usual trademarks, and it means that it’s a massive let-down, especially given how long-awaited the concluding chapter had been.
On its own, it’s a campy, overblown and ridiculous movie that, one particularly-nasty impalement death scene aside, would be a rollicking good time, provided you switch off your brain. In the wake of the earlier films, it’s sadly a disappointment, but it’s not the abomination some reviews would have you believe.
See it if you want to close off the Three Mothers Trilogy, see it if you like bad depictions of witchcraft, or see it because you’re curious. Other than that, it’s probably a very skippable entry.