First a few words about the screening...
Surely by the standards of Toronto's Midnight Madness audiences, a new film from horror maestro Dario Argento is an event of the highest order. Few venues anywhere could offer a group of genre fans so excited and so devoted, so the energy at the start of the show was electric. Dario Argento, and his daughter and leading lady Asia were both in attendance, which only contributed to excitement levels. She thanked her father for making her the freak she is. He, clearly in an emotional state, didn't have much to say, but when Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes let it slip that it was Dario's birthday, the crowd serenaded him with a rendition of "Happy Birthday".
Thankfully, after all that buildup, the movie itself did not disappoint many. The third entry in Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy, it immediately presents the director in good form. An early, astonishingly brutal disembowlment scene sets the gruesome tone at the start, and Argento rarely lets up from there, creating a chaotic thrill ride of a movie. Lacking the self-conscious artistry of many of his earlier, and finer, films, Mother of Tears: The Third Mother finds Argento in balls-out entertainment mode. He includes a plot only insofar as it will move the audience along to the next gory set piece, filling most of the screen time with chase scenes, bloody slayings, and mayhem-laden montages.
A follow-up to the genre classic Suspiria and the somewhat lamentable Inferno, Mother of Tears traces the exploits of a young scholar who, after unwittingly unleashing a long-hidden evil, discovers that she is the only one who can stop the malicious third mother, the final in a trio of witches that operate like the Three Fates, and represent an incarnation of chaos. Ultimately, the story is beside the point, though. Argento's movies often use the supernatural to justify a certain illogic, and the approach here is no exception. Scenes play out with little regard for overall coherence, always striving to maximize effect in the moment. The director employs nearly his entire bag of tricks to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, from shock cuts and loud chords on the soundtrack, to performances that devour the scenery, to a wicked little monkey that terrorizes the heroine.
Ultimately, enjoyment of Mother of Tears requires some degree of complicity in the director's game. This film is obviously not as classy as many of Argento's best. It rarely feels eerie, and instead goes for shocks. That shift might come as a letdown to a devoted few, but even they could never accuse Argento of doing things halfway here. He goes deliriously over the top and carries us with him.