Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, March 26, 2012

Director Report Card: Dario Argento (2007)

17. Mother of Tears
La terza madre

The latter-day Argento malaise rolls on and ends up sullying the name of perhaps his trademark films. Twenty years of brain-storming and this is the epic conclusion to the Three Mothers saga he came up with? I’m not even that big of a fan of “Suspiria” or “Inferno,” and I’m embarrassed by this.

Summing up all of the problems of “Mother of Tears” is difficult. First off, very little of Dario’s usual directorial style is present. We get a few POV shots and a nice long tracking shot towards the end, but there’s certainly none of the overwhelming camera movements that characterize his best work. Horrifyingly, he actually seems to adapt a shaky-cam/Hollywood action movie style during several scenes. I understand why this wasn’t a small scale ghost story like the previous entries, but going wide drains any personal horror from the story.

Things are pretty silly throughout, almost to the point were you wonder if Argento was intentionally going for camp. No, the over-the-top levels of absurd insanity seen in “Phantom of the Opera” aren’t quite reached here but the movie comes uncomfortably close. The trio of attacking demons? The evil witches that look like extras from a Paula Abdul video? The ghost of Daria Nicolodi floating around, Obi-Wan style, helping her daughter out, while Asia yells “Mommy!?" The magical T-shirt? That monkey? And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s a lot of exposition about the mythology of the Three Mothers and, honestly, I don’t mind it by this point. But did we have to get it through slideshows or passages of books being read out loud to us? Argento has always had the tendency to clobber ideas together without much sense. Lately, the ideas themselves are as senseless as the presentation.

The pacing is very weak, with far too much time devoted to Asia running from place to place. The police investigation aspect of the story is underdeveloped. When you think about all the other horrible stuff going on in Rome, would the police really devote that much energy to finding one person?

As for the acting… We all like Asia Argento, right? She can act, I’ve seen it myself. But anytime her dad’s behind the camera, it seems like she devolves into a scratchy voice shrieking little girl without a single bit of emotional restraint. I all ready mentioned how Daria Nicolodi makes a fool of herself. I really can’t stress how jaw-droppingly bad the whole mother-daughter plot line is.

The title character and lynchpin for the entire plot is played by model-turned-actress Moran Atias. It’s really quite obvious that Miss Atias has no formal training, as she mostly stands around naked and badly overacts. I suspect she was chosen more for her physical appearance and willingness to do nudity then for any ability to convey power or dread. Even then, I gotta’ question Dario’s judgement. A witch that’s been imprisoned for a hundred-some years probably shouldn’t have breast implants.

Philippe Leroy is supposes to be the male lead and Asia’s love interest. This is hampered by the fact that his character is completely useless. Moreover, he has very little actual interaction with Asia. Udo Kier brings his usual manic charm to his brief part as a homicidal priest and Valeria Cavalli, as an all-knowing lesbian, is decent. The movie needed more of those two.

Gone is the intimate terror of Dario’s previous film and he compromises with a bunch of shock value. Personally speaking, the guy’s obsession with child murder, previously displayed in his “Masters of Horror” episode “Jenifer,” is beginning to creep me out. And not in a good way. Three dead kids are too many for my taste. Maybe if the movie was actually trying to make some point with all the child killings, it would be different. Yet it’s all too obvious that at some point over the years, Argento got “scares” crossed with “shocks.” The taboo breaking is there simply because, I suspect, he can get away with more in this stage of his career.

There’s a lot of gore and it is pretty solid. Cleaver slashing, intestinal strangulation, head crushing, eye gouging... All good stuff. There’s at least one good jump scare (You’ll know it when you see it) and the weird sex stuff at the end, like witch orgies and butt-rope, is surprising, if nothing else. Claudio Simonetti’s score is decent but minor compared to his past work. Where are the overwhelming waves of throbbing synth cords? The hardcore shock-metal song that plays over the end credits is just the final crap cherry on the vomit sundae.

The movie ends in the same sort of nonsensical, frenzied way as the previous two parts of the trilogy. Only this time, we get some bad CGI, a ridiculously demise, a blatant call-back to “Phenomena,” and inappropriate laughing. It’s a clueless, abrupt conclusion to a largely clueless, abrupt film.

And this last point is a petty complaint, for sure, but I might as well throw it out there. “Mother of Tears” is a boring title. It doesn’t mesh with the other two films in the trilogy, at all. (Which is appropriate, I suppose, since the film itself sticks out horribly too.) The original Italian title is even worse, since it translates as just “The Third Mother,” and the U.S. working title of “Exhumed” is generic. “Suspiria” and “Inferno” were descriptive titles suggesting the film’s tone, themes, and central villain. In the alternate universe where Argento didn’t loose most of his talent after 1996, “Mother of Tears” was not only a lot better but it was also called “Hystericus,” a title that invokes the film’s Rome setting, the chaotic story and tone, as well as the villain’s association with panic and crying. It also fits the one-word titling scheme of the rest of the trilogy.

Is the magic gone forever? “Mother of Tears” is another manic, shrill misfire from an over-the-hill filmmaker. I bet all those fanboys begging for the third part of the trilogy are sorry now. [Grade: D]

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