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Mute Witness

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Mute Witness

Starring: Marina Sudina, Fay Ripley
Director: Anthony Waller
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: September 1995
Genres: Drama, Mystery, Suspense


*Also starring: Evan Richards, Oleg Jankowskij, Igor Volkow, Sergei Karlenkov, Alex Bureew, Alec Guinness



Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

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 enjoyed it.

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 for me.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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