MUTE WITNESS is a Hitchcockian film that tests the limits of good
taste, but nevertheless is a real treat if you can appreciate strange,
off-beat movies. I predict many people will be turned off by it and a
fair number will walk out, but I was surprised at how much I thoroughly
MUTE WITNESS tells the story of an American film company shooting
a low budget picture in Moscow. The single scene of the grade B movie
within the movie that we see features the bloody and heavily overacted
death of a young woman. The director of the grade B movie, Andy (Evan
Richards), has no talent. His wife, Karen (Fay Ripley), is helping out
with the picture. Karen's sister, Billy Hughes (Mary Sudina), is the
special effects makeup artist, and Billy is mute.
The central premise of the movie is that Billy accidentally
witnesses a porn film being made by Sergei Karlenkov where the actress
in it is actually stabbed and murdered. Or was she? Billy tries to
cry out, but, being mute, her scream is silent.
When the crime is reported to the Russian police they do not know
what to make of her story. In a great role, Oleg Jankowskij plays a
mysterious guy who is a Russian cop. Or is he?
Despite its frequent crudeness, MUTE WITNESS works for two
reasons. First, you keep being tricked on what is real, and what is
fake; who are the bad guys and who are the good. Second, first time
movie actress Mary Sudina gives a compelling performance. When she is
in danger, it feels real and her performance makes you sincerely care
for her character. Her muteness makes her extremely vulnerable in her
situation and strikes genuine fear in the audience when she keeps
getting deeper and deeper in trouble. I hope to see Sudina in many
more films since she has a lot of talent.
Anthony Waller is a first time director and writer who is
innovative, shocking, and involving. Assuming you do not get turned
off by the Psycho style violence and leave immediately, you will find
yourself being drawn into the complex web of the story. The movie is
like a one of those paper mazes where you are trying to help Billy find
her way out to a safe spot without moving her into one of the many
squares where she will be killed.
Waller has seen and learned from many of Hitchcock's best movies.
The scene where Billy goes to phone and tries to tap out help on the
receiver is full of tension and one that is evocative of the great
master. Another complication is that Billy can hear fine, but the
people who may or may not be bad guys speak in Russian, and she can not
understand a word they say. The special effects are simple but
effective. Is that supposed to be real blood or fake, a real gun shot
or a blank?
The cinematography by Egon Werdin, the editing by Peter R. Adam,
and the camera work also by director/writer Waller use many dramatic
cuts. One minute we are watching a scene where someone is being
stabbing with the blood (or is it really blood?) spurting to a scene of
rare meat in a restaurant being sliced. Vegetarianism may find many
converts from the people who see this film.
There are many little treats in the show. For one the dialog is
frequently quiet funny without any traces of being slapstick. Another
is that the lead bad guy who is called The Reaper. He appears for only
a few seconds in two scenes and the credits list him simply as "Mystery
Guest Star". I refuse to give away his identity, but I did read that
he made the scenes ten years ago when the director first had the idea
for the movie. The director just keep the scenes in the film canister.
If you see the movie, you will recognize him.
The ending of the show is the best part - one twist after another.
Just as soon as you think you know what is real and what isn't, you
find out you don't, and this confusing state keeps iterating until
finally the truth is revealed. Whew.
MUTE WITNESS is a joint American-German-Russian production. It
runs a fast 1:38. It is rated R for sex, nudity, and lots of blood.
I found the blood a little shocking but not overdone, nevertheless,
I think the film borders on being NC-17 and is not appropriate for
teenagers. If you feel like something out of the ordinary, and you
like mysteries, I recommend MUTE WITNESS to you. It was a *** movie
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes