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Mute Witness

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Anthony Waller
Marina Zudina
Fay Ripley
Evan Richards
Oleg Yankovskiy
Bottom Line: 

 I'd heard next-to-nothing about the fantastic suspense flick, "Mute Witness", save for a blurb in an issue of Fangoria nearly a decade ago. It piqued my interest, however, and when I finally tracked the film down on video later, I was not only impressed, but blown away by the fact that it made such little impact. It's a film that skillfully weaves classic suspense with slasher attitude and a visual flair that recalls the Euro-shock stylings of Argento and Bava. It's a film that, much like it's protagonist, has been quiet for far too long.
Mute make-up artist Billy Hughes (Zudina) and her sister Karen (Ripley) are in Moscow filming the first post-Glasnost slasher movie; a low budget shlocker which is being directed Karen's boyfriend, Andy (Richards). When shooting is done for the day, the crew part ways, leaving Billy behind to gather some materials for the next day. However, when the security guard locks up the old Russian factory that now serves as the movie studio, Billy is locked inside, incapable of yelling for help. After scouring the huge empty building for another way out, Billy is relieved to hear voices back in the studio, and stumbles upon a pair of Russian crewmembers filming what appears to be an after-hours porno film on Andy's set. However, when the actress in the film is brutally murdered before Billy's eyes, she realizes she has just bore witness to the making of a snuff film, and flees, alerting the killers to her presence.
Karen and Andy return just as the killers catch up to Billy. The police are notified, but their investigation turns up nothing as the killers have hidden all evidence, and convince them (along with Karen and Andy) that what Billy really saw was a make-up test they were planning to show Andy in hopes he would use their ideas in his film. The police are satisfied, and Andy and Karen take Billy home to rest, but she's still sure of what she saw.
The killers, meanwhile, deliver the real snuff film to the notorious "Reaper" (Guiness in an uncredited cameo), a Russian underworld figure. The Reaper refuses to pay the men for their film, as he has been alerted to the police involvement, and is aware of the "witness" Billy Hughes. If the men want their money, Billy has to die.
Mute Witness is one of those films that just sneaks up on you, with a relatively tame opening sequence that calls to mind Brian DePalma's "Blow Out". Once things get rolling, however, it's apparent that director Anthony Waller is a student of the Hitchcock method, filling this dark world with twists and turns and breathless suspense, and populating it with quirky characters and situations that will have you guessing until the end. I was also very impressed with the look of Mute Witness. The way cinematographer Egon Werdin floods the dark Moscow streets with blues and reds, bathes shadows in rich colors, and his use of zooms and depth-of-field trickery is positively inspired and impressive stuff.
I only wish the film's conclusion wasn't so contrived, as it seems completely out of place when taken in context with the rest of the film.
The DVD from Sony features a great 2.35:1 widescreen transfer and solid soundtrack, but little else, save for a handful of trailers for other releases. Still, the film is such an obscurity (albeit, unfairly so), that I'm just happy to be able to retire my worn out VHS copy and finally see this film in its intended aspect ratio.
Fans of well-crafted thrillers owe it to themselves to give Mute Witness a look. It's one of the best movies you've never heard of.

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