Mute Witness Review

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Billy Hughes, a mute makeup artist working on a slasher film being shot in Moscow, is locked in the studio after hours...


This hand-to-mouth thriller, shot in the former Soviet Union by a Brit, has been gaining a fair bit of word-of-mouth on the festival circuit. Indeed, it has already made enough waves to land writer-director Waller the plumb assignment of An American Werewolf In Paris. It's a style-heavy stalker picture, rehashing tired women-in-peril conventions with gloomy panache, impressing rather more through its frills than its hollow core.

Billy Hughes (Sudina), a mute special effects girl, is working in Moscow on a cheapo slasher picture directed by her obnoxious brother-in-law (Richards). Staying late at the studio one night, she strays onto the shoot of a snuff movie and is chased around by the two-man crew. When the cops are called in, she signs out the situation but no one seems to believe her. It turns out that the woman killed in the film had a computer disc which could ruin Russian ganglord Alec Guinness, who contributes an unbilled cameo. The crooks think Billy has the disc and she is soon being chased by bogus cops, real cops, hit men and other trouble-makers.

The plot starts out contrived and gets silly, but Sudina's strong performance and dollops of technical gimmickry distract you from the gaping holes in logic. There are one or two genuinely tricky bits of business, heavily signalling twists that are then taken back or capping a guessable fake death with a gruesomely credible punchline. It's heavily indebted to Dario Argento and Brian De Palma, with less misogyny and also without a real demented edge that would suggest Waller really means it.

What follows is a sublimely tense pursuit, with suspense ratcheted up by ingenious camerawork and the seedy Russian locales. And nothing can prepare you for the true identity of The Reaper, credited only as 'Mystery Guest Star'.