Directed by Anthony Waller
Produced by Alexander Buchman, Norbert Soentgen, & Anthony Waller
Written by Anthony Waller
Director of Photograpy Egon Werdin
Music by Wilbert Hirsch
Cast: Marina Zudina, Fay Ripley, Evan Richards & Oleg Yankovsky
1994/96 mins/Color/Dolby 2.0 Surround
2.35:1/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment DVD
It's an old story, a director (such as Raimi, Carpenter, Jackson, and Craven, just to name a few) makes a low-budget horror film, gets noticed by Hollywood, and then moves on to bigger things. But, what about the director who makes that leap to the big-time and then disappears? That seems to be the case with writer/director Anthony Waller, who made the much-hated AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (and one other film) and then seemingly dropped off of the face of the Earth. Waller's first film, the suspense thriller MUTE WITNESS is now coming to DVD.
MUTE WITNESS focuses on a group of filmmakers working on a slasher film in Moscow. The director, Andy (Evan Richards), his assitant and girlfriend, Karen (Fay Ripley), and Karen's sister and special-effects make-up artist Billy (Marina Zudina), are all Americans, and feel out of place in the Russian city. Things are especially tough for Billy, as she cannot talk. After a long day of shooting, Billy stays behind to look for a mask and finds herself locked in the studio. While searching for a way out, she comes across two men filming what seems to be a sex film. But, that illusion is soon shattered when Billy realizes that she is witnessing a snuff film being made. She hides in the studio and is able to elude the two men. However, when the police arrive, there is no proof that a crime took place. Now, it is up to Billy to stay alive long enough to substantiate her story.
MUTE WITNESS is a great example of a modern take on the Hitchcockian formula. We have a character who is out of place (and mute to boot!) who must show the authorities that she was right. Waller has taken a rather simple story and crafted an intriguing film. The first 46-minutes of the film make-up one of the most suspenseful movies ever made. The chase scene inside the movie studio, in which Billy is constantly on the run from the snuff-film makers, is incredibly intense. Through editing and clever camera angles, Waller creates the kind of suspense that we rarely see in films anymore. Also, he makes great use of the widescreen image, composing shots that wouldn't work at all if the film were viewed in a full-frame format (see Chapter 5 for examples of this). Somehow, we know that Billy will escape, but this is still gut-wrenching stuff. And, of course, the fact that Billy is mute is a nice element.
Unfortunately, the second-half of the film cannot sustain this momentum. Once the action leaves the studio, the film becomes a very standard thriller. And, to make matters worse, a "who can you trust?" conspiracy angle is brought into the story. This only convolutes things and draws attention away from the main story with Billy. On the positive side, Waller makes good use of the "fish out of water" angle, as Billy and her friends are intimidated by the Moscow police and the language barrier hinders any explanations which they offer. The finale is exciting, and offers a nice, but predictable twist. MUTE WITNESS isn't perfect, but the knockout first-half of the film certainly makes it worth seeing.
(This may sound odd, but MUTE WITNESS also makes the mistake of going too far with the snuff murder. The scene is fairly explicit, and may be difficult for some viewers to take, as it mixed sex and violence. I've always felt that MUTE WITNESS was an under-rated film that more viewers need to discover, but I feel that this scene may hinder the film from finding that wide audience that it deserves. Or, maybe I'm just a prude.)
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment bring MUTE WITNESS to DVD. The DVD contains an anamorphic widescreen trasnsfer of the film, which has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. As mentioned above, the letterboxed format is the only way to view this movie. The image looks pretty good, as the image is sharp, but it does show a noticeable amount of grain at times. Also, some shots look somewhat muddy. For the most part, the colors are good, but they do look faded at times. The DVD's Dolby 2.0 Surround audio track performs much better. This track delivers clear dialogue, along with a surprising amount of surround sound action. The rear-channel effects make the chase through the studio even more effective, and the musical cues sound good as well. The only extras on the DVD are trailers for other Columbia DVDs. I am glad that Columbia chose to stick with the film's original art, which features a female face with the mouth sutured shut.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©