Plot Outline: At a construction dig, the remains of the ‘legendary’ Oscar de la Valle are dug up along with an urn. It seems that this urn contains remnants of the titular Mother of Tears and de la Valle was tasked with delivering them to the Vatican. However, death and destruction followed him and eventually de la Valle himself perished during the journey (which one character glibly summarizes “He had a bad trip”) and the urn and he were buried together. Back to modern day, the urn is sent to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome where Sarah (Asia Argento) and Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) both work. In a stupid “never seen Evil Dead nor even read about Pandora’s Box” move, Giselle ends up reawakening the Mother of Tears (and getting an intestinal necktie in the process) who seeks to continue her reign of terror in Rome. It’s now up to Argento and her latent white magic powers to save the city!
Genre film fans should well know by now that Mother of Tears, one of the most long awaited horror films, is the third and final installment of the “Mother” trilogy which also included the seminal art-horror flick Suspiria and the overwrought yet enjoyable Inferno. Sadly, however, this series ends on a markedly anti-climactic note. I know that there are a lot of Dario Argento apologists out there who will defend Mother of Tears as at least somewhat of a return to form. After all, the film certainly tries to be good since it has a good amount of gore, plenty of euro-trash imagery (including a group of witches with faux punk/goth makeup and wardrobe), violence against Achilles heels, pubes, eyes, children AND infants, and the mighty Udo Kier. Plus, Argento made his name nearly synonymous with Italian genre film due to his contributions in giallo (Deep Red, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), horror (Suspiria), and westerns (Argento co-wrote Once Upon a Time in the West). However, we all have to admit that, save a couple of decent entries in the Masters of Horror TV series, Uncle Dario has been phoning it in for most of the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, “Mother of Tears” is no different.
The film’s main problem is its writing. Not that it’s particularly bad but it’s very dull, forgettable and feels overwritten at times. OK, so it’s kind of bad and the actors really don’t do the script any favors. In a key scene in which Sarah is fleeing the police and her magical powers are first introduced, she is instructed by the disembodied voice of her mother (Asia’s real-life mother Daria Nicolodi) to “Concentrate, and they won’t see you”. After the police indeed don’t detect her, Sarah flees in the opposite direction but not without yelling “What!?!” to a customer staring at her puzzlingly. Way to listen to mom, Sarah. Speaking of Asia Argento’s acting (if we must), she really needs to figure out how to look scared, somewhat surprising since she’s the offspring of a horror master. Her facial expressions during scary scenes tend to fluctuate between dumb-founded and constipated. That’s probably overexaggerating but at the least Mother should be proof that nepotism is never a good thing.
Subpar acting and dialog are really nothing new to an Argento film, though. Even the best of his films are spotty in both of these areas and, really, it’s the style and atmosphere that matter most to Dario fans. Argento certainly tries to make the film look good with lots of warm earthy tones to contrast the flashy primary lighting (a la Suspiria). Some of the gore, however, is obviously CGI which removes the impact and organic feel that makes Argento’s earlier films so appealing. Overall, in fact, the film has a clean, sterile look which gives it a cheap TV feel to it. I thought that Brad Anderson’s 2001 flick Session 9 had similar problems; the clean look to it marred what was otherwise an effective and spooky experience. That’s where comparison of these two films can stop, though, because whereas Anderson’s effort was an above average old school exercise in horror, Argento’s is far below what we should expect of him. Mother isn’t terrible but it’s so underwhelming that it doesn’t distinguish itself from many other modern horror films and that’s not necessarily good company to keep.