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  Mute Witness Silent Scream
Year: 1994
Director: Anthony Waller
Stars: Marina Zudina, Fay Ripley, Evan Richards, Oleg Yankovskiy, Igor Volkov, Sergei Karlenkov, Alec Guinness, Aleksandr Pyatkov, Nikolai Pastukhov, Aleksandr Bureyev, Stephen Bouser, Valeri Barakhtin, Nikolay Chindyaykin, Vyacheslav Naumenko, Larisa Khusnolina
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Billie Hughes (Marina Zudina) works as a makeup artist for films and her current project is helping out on her sister Karen (Fay Ripley) and brother-in-law Andy's (Evan Richards) latest movie, a slasher movie shot in Moscow. It's not going entirely great, however, as the actress playing one of the victims goes way over the top and demolishes the set in her pretend death throes, leading the Russian crew to tell director Andy that they will need a whole day to prepare for the next scene. Frustrated, he sends everyone home, but Billie accidentally gets locked in the studio overnight...

Mute Witness was one of those movies that actually began with an item of misdirection, as instigated probably by Frankenstein 1970 back in the fifties where the story we are seeing at the beginning turns out not to be the story of the rest of the film. But where that was often a gimmick, and is still being used to this day often in the dream sequence common to horrors and thrillers, here there was a thematic sense to the opening, as the whole plot revolved around the fact that both the characters and the audience could not trust their eyes and ears completely. Again, not a fresh idea, but director Anthony Waller showed great flair with it.

When Mute Witness was released, many thought they had just witnessed the birth of a major new talent in suspense, such was the warm reaction it generated by those who responded to its thrills and chills. Waller must have thought he had finally arrived, but then next made the misstep of taking on An American Werewolf in Paris, and his star fell considerably - after all, there are many who still don't know that An American Werewolf in London had a sequel at all. Waller kept working, but with nothing like as high profile as this skillful debut indicated he should have had, and as a consequence this gem disappeared into the half-recalled movie morass of the nineties.

However, there were a few who remembered, or at least would if you jogged their memories, and so Mute Witness retained a cult following instead of a full on minor classic status that had initially been hoped for. It's not quite as slick as it looked back then, but Waller's twists and admittedly contrived setpieces could continue to get the adrenaline pumping if you cared to give it the chance. Its best idea was that Billie did not have the power of speech, she wasn't deaf but had difficulty communicating with anyone apart from Karen (Ripley's wavering American accent being one of the weak points), so when she catches sight of a snuff movie being filmed in the studio in the dead of night, she cannot get across to anyone that what happened was real.

Especially as the killers have covered their tracks very successfully - and will go further as they target Billie for death to keep her quiet, which is ironic in that she is already very quiet. There followed a neat game of cat and mouse as the murderers were backed by a shadowy cabal who apparently had agents all over the place, and the dread that Moscow had become a city where the law was powerless in the face of criminal gangs willing to kill to get their way was capitalised on here. Also worth noting was that the baddies were led by none other than Alec Guinness, doing a favour to Waller with a cameo actually filmed some time before, and seamlessly edited into the narrative in a manner that, like much of Mute Witness, winked at the audience. There was a strong element of black comedy running through this, but not so much that the tension eased; it may have been a stylistic exercise, but as these things went that was no bad thing. Music by Wilbert Hirsch.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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