Sony // 1994 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 12th, 2003
She won't be silenced.
To use an old tagline cliché, "making movies can be murder." No one knows this better than Billy Hughes (Marina Sudina), a mute American make-up artist working on a movie set in Russia. One night Billy finds herself back inside the studio looking for a mask needed for the next day's production. While attempting to retrieve the prop she oversees two men and a blonde woman shooting a porno film. At first Billy's amused. But her amusement soon turns to terror as she watched the woman's lover pull out a knife and brutally murder her on film. As Billy races to find safety, the two men hunt for her through the studio she's finally found by her sister, Kay (Fay Ripley, The Announcement), and her director husband, Andy (Evan Richards, Society). After consulting with the Russian police, Billy finds that no one believes her about the girl's murder. Even her friends are a little suspicious of Billy's fears when the blood on the supposed killers ends up being Karo syrup -- the police chalk it up to a staged scene for a film. But Billy knows what she saw, and so do the killers: and they'll stop at nothing to protect their secret.
Mute Witness is one of those little thrillers that you catch at 1:00AM on TNT when everyone else has gone to sleep. Is it any good? Yes, in a small scale sort of way. Writer/producer/director Anthony Waller (who also helmed the tepid horror sequel An American Werewolf in Paris) shows that he's got a good eye for what makes an audience squirm. In this case, it's not gore or horror, but suspense -- the film is filled with scenes of the heroine, Billy, running and dangling from, leaping out of the way of, and generally avoiding two very mean looking Russian killers. The catch is that Billy is a mute -- she can't utter a peep, making it very difficult for her to call anyone for help. This often makes for tense situations, as when Billy's caught in her apartment and can't find help over the phone. The movie is basically one big chase picture with Billy as the ring leader -- she spends most of her time trying to fend off knives and other sharp instruments o' death. Russian actress Marina Sudina is fragile and spirited in the role of Billy. Even without any lines, Sudina makes the character come to life with facial expressions and exasperating hand signals. Other actors are a bit spottier -- Fay Ripley is decent as Billy's sister but Evan Richards is too cartoonish and overwrought as her anal-retentive husband. The rest of the cast is made up of some pretty mean looking foreigners who spill a lot of blood. Classic movie buffs will be thrilled to see the late Sir Alec Guinness (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Star Wars) in one of his final screen roles. Surprisingly, the scene involving the filming of a snuff film is harrowing for such a low budget effort. Those looking for gratuitous gore will be disappointed -- though there are some scenes of spilling blood, the shocks are kept to a bare minimum. However, there are enough scares and tense situations to make Mute Witness rise above most straight-to-video thrillers. I'd be more than interested to check out Waller's next effort, unless it ends up being another sequel to another John Landis movie.
Mute Witness is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. Columbia has produced a fine looking image considering this is a low budget thriller from Germany. The colors and black levels are all even without any bleeding hindering the picture. Dirt and edge enhancement are present in a few spots. The bulk of this picture is clean, making for above average viewing. While Mute Witness may not be up to the standards of some higher profile Hollywood releases, this transfer should do just fine. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English and French. The sound mix isn't overly exciting -- there is a small amount of hiss in the mix, though it's not very noticeable to untrained ears (I took a course called "Audio Hiss 101" in college). Overall, the track tends to be very front heavy. Directional effects and surround sounds aren't plentiful, though the dialogue, effects, and music are crystal clear. Also included on this disc are English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Korean subtitles.
Mute Witness is a catalog release for Columbia and it's none too shocking to find this disc void of any substantial extra features. Aside of a few theatrical trailers for various Columbia flicks, Mute Witness is a bare bones disc.
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailers