La terza madre

La terza madreSynopsis: Shocking gore and artistic brilliance mark the return of Dario Argento, “one of the best horror directors ever” (slasherpool.com), as he concludes his classic “Three Mothers” trilogy (including Suspiria and Inferno). Argento’s daughter, Asia Argento, stars as Sarah, a young American art student who naively opens an ancient chest releasing unimaginable evil into Rome. As violence and murder reach epidemic heights, Sarah must use her untapped magic powers to destroy the last great witch in human history. Splattered with scenes of death and debauchery, Mother of Tears is “a rousingly insane movie-going experience” (bloody-disgusting.com) destined to satisfy Argento fans and newcomers alike!

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La terza madre 6.75

eyelights: the basic concept. Claudio Simonetti’s score.
eyesores: Morian Atlas. Asia Argento. the rip-off ending. the CGI.

‘La terza madre’ is the third part of Ario Argento’s famed “The Three Mothers” trilogy. It was made 27 years after the last installment, ‘Inferno‘, much to the dismay of fans everywhere – ‘Suspiria‘, its predecessor, being one of the legendary filmmaker’s most iconic works. This time, the story takes place in Rome, focusing on the third mother, Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears).

I had heard much about the quality of this film. In one breath, a Dario Argento buff I know would praise the first two films and then admonish this one, labeling it complete crap. After having seen a number of Argento most recent works, and being aware of his fall from grace in the last decade and a half, I had readied myself for the worst of cinematic experiences.

What I hadn’t anticipated was to be watching a half-decent, if relatively uninspired, motion picture.

Honestly, as far as horror-thrillers go, ‘La terza madre’ isn’t actually half bad; the first hour or so was quite enjoyable, truth be told – you know, for what it is. Unfortunately, the last half hour goes from intriguing to merely okay to F-ing horrible. In fact, the last 10 minutes were so bloody terrible that they spoiled everything.

Not only does it wrap up quickly, like a throw-away (I won’t go into details, but… how can just tearing away that garb make everything come apart at the seams? That’s all that’s needed to stop Mater Lachrymarum? Really?), but the Mater herself is one of the worst “actors” I’ve seen a while; she’s so bloody terrible that every moment she’s in is a hot tar.

In all respects, Mater Lachrymarum was a disappointment. Obviously, I knew that she wouldn’t be the same woman as in ‘Inferno’, given that that woman would not be close to 50 years old, but Moran Atias looked nothing like her and had those terrible fake boobs and white teeth – nasty stuff to start off with, but also a major discrepancy for a centuries’ old witch.

Plus, in case I hadn’t already made it clear, Atias stunk to high heaven.

Thankfully, the film doesn’t really focus on the Mater. The central character is Sarah (as played by Asia Argento), an art restorator, who gets caught up in a murder mystery with some sort of supernatural connection. Since the murder might be related to some artifacts that their museum was sent, she and her boss (with whom she’s involved, b-t-w) split up to try to find clues to the mystery.

Sarah is our main focus, our protagonist. Unfortunately, Asia Argento is hardly a great thespian.

I’ve railed about her before, I know, most recently after watching ‘Il fantasma dell’opera‘. But I must reiterate: she’s really not a great actress. In ‘La terza madre’, thankfully, she’s tolerable; she didn’t make me want to scratch my eyes out. She was an improvement over Moran Atias,anyway. But I really wish that she would learn subtlety. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but she frequently goes for slightly kitschy – thereby stripping scenes of any realism.

The reality is that Asia was doing quite okay for herself in the beginning of the film; she had an effortless, almost natural vibe going for her. One could even say that I was enjoying her performance. Things got dicey when her character was thrown into wrenching situations that required Asia to be emotional. That’s when the scenery-chewer in her surged forth. There was no turning back, then. Le sigh…

Anyway, those two actresses and the last 30 minutes aside, I found ‘La terza madre’ far better than expected.

What was most surprising was that it felt like a generic movie, made by just about any no-name director. Dario’s touch appears nowhere. At least, I didn’t notice anything. And while it’s a better constructed film than the other two in the series, it lacks their imagination and innovation. It was surely a great disappointment to fans of the trilogy because it just doesn’t fit the rest one bit; it’s as though Dario really didn’t try. Or care.

It’s really too bad because, even if he had merely emulated his earlier works in order for it to fit the set, he would have at least earned some respect from fans for completing the series – even if it wasn’t that great a film. As it stands, he went with a completely different kind of motion picture and didn’t do it particularly well. It must have been a double whammy for anyone expecting something amazing after 30 years of wait.

One gets the sense that Dario Argento has pretty much given up. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything original these days, and he’s not making any effort to sustain the reputation that he worked so hard to get. Is it because he’s boxed into a genre he would have liked to escape back in 1973, with ‘Le cinque giornate’? It’s possible that, since that failed and his greatest achievements immediately followed, he got trapped by expectations.

By this point in his career, though, it feels as though he’s going through the motions and just putting out product. ‘La terza madre’, in particular, felt like many other horror films (in particular ‘The Ninth Gate’) and even had an abundance of gratuitous sex that is uncustomary for Argento’s films. I mean, we can all expect some vicious violence in his pictures, but was the sex a conditional part of the film’s financing? Or did he become a hack?

One indicator that Argento may have just tossed in the towel is that he relied on CGI effects far too much here. Not only did the CGI not look real, but it felt lazy, unnecessary, and certainly light-years away from the ingenious -if not entirely real-looking- techniques that he used in his heyday. I can understand how much effort it must be to do everything with make-up, practical effects, and so forth, but now even the simplest thing is CGI-ed.

Thankfully, Claudio Simonetti returned to the fold for yet another Argento film – his seventh as a solo artist or with Goblin. It’s nothing at all like the scores of the first two films in the trilogy, going choir-heavy instead of proggy, but there is an homage to the music of ‘Suspiria’ at one point. As far as I’m concerned it was an excellent score, even if it doesn’t match Goblin’s best. I’d even go so far as saying that it’s the best part of the picture.

Honestly,despite it’s many flaws, ‘La terza madre’ is effective enough to have actually made me jump once or twice. Not bad, all things considered. Still, fans of ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Inferno’ are likely to want to disown this closing segment of the series because it’s nothing like the originals. I get that. But, removed from those preconception, it’s a decent enough motion picture. It’s not Argento’s best, but it’s hardly his worst. And it has its moments.

It’s just too bad that it wasn’t enough to restore faith in his fans. It might have been his last great opportunity.

Date of viewing: April 7, 2013

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