Mute Witness

It’s all perfectly staged, the woman at the dresser whose attention is elsewhere, oblivious to the radio news report of an extremely dangerous escaped prisoner and his accomplices, failing to notice the watcher by the bedroom window which opens too easily, everything happening so fast – until the victim decides to play a protracted death scene and tear down half the set before she finally gasps her last.

The director already exasperated with the Russian cast and crew who he communicates with through a translator, too late to reset the stage or even for a final closeup before the plug is pulled at six, they finish for the weekend and leave special effects makeup artist Billie Hughes to wrap up a few things, believing she is alone at the studio until she walks in on an illicit after-hours project arranged by stagehands Arkadi and Lyosha which requires no fake blood and the screams of terror are real.

Filmed almost entirely in Moscow and originally released in 1995, Russian theatre actor Marina Zudina is Billie Hughes, the Mute Witness of the title, aware of the murder and where the body has been disposed of in black bags at the bottom of a disused lift shaft but struggling to convince the authorities, the only person with whom she is able to effectively communicate via sign language her sister Karen (Fay Ripley).

The killers claiming that she is mistaken, unable to distinguish fact from elaborately contrived fiction, Billie knows better but with no voice she is unable to defend herself, overlooked and dismissed by officers whose cursory investigation is conducted with the suspects in the room, though insufferable director Andy Clarke (Evan Richards) is no better, seeing this as another distraction in a difficult production where he is the victim, a bumbling man-child whose only skill turns out to be with a gun.

Written, produced and directed by An American Werewolf in Paris‘ Anthony Waller who once persuaded Sir Alec Guinness to shoot a cameo incorporated here as criminal mastermind “the Reaper” but credited as “mystery guest star,” Mute Witness is a thriller which pays homage to Hitchcock in the situations, reversals and occasional absurd comedy in moments of peril but Waller is his own worst enemy, over-egging with jump cuts and multiple camera tricks back-to-back when simply letting his ensemble carry scenes would be less distracting.

Given a director-approved restoration for Arrow’s new Blu-ray edition, Waller also provides a commentary as do production designer Matthias Kammermeier and composer Wilbert Hirsch while Alexandra Heller-Nicholas offers a video essay on the film’s relationship with snuff movies and Chris Alexander provides a fascinating insight into the history of horror movies set within the world of film, and archive material includes the original investors pitch, location scouting and the footage shot of Guinness in Berlin a decade before the main production.

Mute Witness will be available on Blu-ray from Arrow from Monday 10th June



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