Mute Witness (1995) – Film Review

Mute Witness Film Review

Director: Anthony Waller
Cast: Marina Sudina, Fay Ripley, Evan Richards
Certificate: 18

By Roger Crow

Years ago, writer-director Anthony Waller persuaded Alec Guinness to film a short cameo in a car park. A while later Mute Witness was released and cineastes went nuts over said appearance. The thriller was elevated into cult indie status and Waller was given the prestigious An American Werewolf in Paris to direct… which was frankly rubbish.

I spent almost 30 years wondering what Mute Witness was actually like, and thanks to a shiny new release, I finally got my answer.

Mute-Witness-Film-Review-CoverThis low-budget thriller centres on Billy Hughes (Marina Sudina), a mute special effects artist working on a low-budget American slasher movie being shot in Russia. Accidentally locked in the studio late one night, she stumbles upon two men shooting what appears to be a snuff film.

“Suitably gritty”

Having witnessed their victim’s final moments, Billy desperately flees – but this is only the start of a night of terror, drawing her and her friends into a tangled web of intrigue, involving the KGB, the Moscow police… and a mysterious crime kingpin known as “The Reaper”.

Given the subject matter, the movie is suitably gritty and boasts a good balance of thrills and humour. Spoiler alert, but it opens with a film within a film, to the point where you wonder if Waller has got a clue about how to stage a believable death scene. Thankfully it’s all part of the in-joke, and a good way to relieve tension as we get to know the characters.

Having the sublime Fay Ripley do a US accent was a bad idea, but obviously the creatives needed to sell it to a US market, so the pre-Cold Feet Fay is annoyingly Americanised. Marina Sudina is a terrific lead, and when Guinness finally shows up for his cameo, it’s genuinely thrilling.

Mute Witness Film Review

“Transformative effect”

While the film ticks over well, and the heroine attempts to stay alive, it ticks one box, but the really fascinating stuff is on the extras. Waller’s director’s commentary is worth the price alone as he addresses every element of making a movie in Russia, the communication problems, and of course, getting that Guinness cameo in the can.

There’s also the footage itself, in which the beloved thesp instantly elevates those few seconds into something far greater than the source material. It does make you wonder about the power of slotting A-list thesps into C-list thrillers and the transformative effect they can have. Anyway, watch it for the movie, but definitely watch it again for the yack track, as it’s an inspiring tribute to Waller’s resourcefulness.

  • 4K restoration approved by director Anthony Waller
  • 4K (2160p) Ultra HD Blu-ray™ presentation in HDR10
  • Restored original lossless stereo soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary by writer/director Anthony Waller
  • Brand new audio commentary with production designer Matthias Kammermeier and composer Wilbert Hirsch, moderated by critic Lee Gambin
  • The Silent Death, brand new visual essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, examining Mute Witness and its relationship with snuff films
  • The Wizard Behind the Curtain, brand new visual essay by author and critic Chris Alexander, exploring the phenomenon of the film-within-a-film
  • Original “Snuff Movie” presentation, produced to generate interest from investors and distributors, featuring interviews with Anthony Waller and members of the creative team
  • Original location scouting footage
  • Original footage with Alec Guinness, filmed a decade prior to the rest of Mute Witness
  • Teaser trailer
  • Trailer
  • Image gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais
  • Double-sided foldout poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Michelle Kisner
Mute Witness is released on 4K HD by Arrow

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