by Bill Chambers Sanity and fatigue are ineluctable corrupting influences on an aging filmmaker, but it brings me great pleasure and no small relief to be able to report that while Mother of Tears: The Third Mother--Dario Argento's long-gestating conclusion to his "Three Sisters" trilogy--is neither as artful as Suspiria nor as dreamlike as Inferno, it nevertheless surpasses expectations fostered by Argento's recent work to emerge as his best movie in decades. Fitting that Argento should choose to tell the Rome-set story of Mater Lacrimarum last, marking this as a homecoming in more ways than one.
In what feels like an in-joke, a better-than-usual Asia Argento (who else?) plays Sarah Mandy, the curator for the same museum that served as the locus of her character's problems in The Stendhal Syndrome. Here, it's ground zero for the eponymous witch's evil, unleashed after one of Sarah's colleagues unwisely disturbs the contents of a freshly-excavated urn. In no time flat Sarah is dodging cops and ghouls (and baboons and fashion models) in pursuit of her boyfriend, his son, and some satisfactory explanation as to her role in bringing down the Big Bad's coven; if this sounds vaguely reminiscent of last year's feature-film adaptation of Konami's "Silent Hill" series, consider how indebted the cause-and-effect nature of plot-driven videogames is to the nightmare logic Argento legitimized as a narrative mode in his supernatural period.
In all honesty, Mother of Tears has a propulsive momentum that feels out of synch with the lulling tempo of its predecessors, and, unlike those earlier films, it doesn't make much of an aesthetic impact--there's nothing to burn it onto the retinae like the Escherian backdrops of Suspiria or the submerged ballroom of Inferno. There's a flipside to that nonconformity, though, in that this might actually be the only film of the trilogy to engage the zeitgeist directly, first by portraying the Mother's evil as epidemic rather than contained (a seemingly crucial acknowledgment of our 'viral' culture), then by satirizing the Harry Potter flicks with increasing transparency. It's also bloody as fuck, marrying CGI to Guignol whimsy in ways so tasteless that you can hear the crackle of Argento's mojo working. Programme: Midnight Madness (Originally published: September 9, 2007.)