JANUARY 25, 2009
Some 15 years ago, Fangoria was singing the praises of a film called Mute Witness, comparing the opening 40 minutes to Halloween. That’s not praise I will accept easily, especially without seeing it for myself. But since the review pointed out that the film needed to be seen in widescreen, and I didn’t have a laserdisc, I didn’t bother to watch it. When it finally hit DVD in 2003 I picked it up immediately, and now I finally watch it six years later.
(I would like to submit this story to anyone who claims I need instant gratification.)
To its credit, the opening is pretty exciting, in that it’s well shot, has some nice setpieces (like climbing down a shaft) and an interesting location (a movie studio, where a shitty slasher movie is being shot). Unfortunately, it’s not particularly suspenseful, because it all concerns our heroine, and we know damn well she won’t get killed (also, knowing that it only lasts about 40 minutes kills the momentum a bit, though that’s not the filmmaker’s fault by any means).
After that though, it’s a sort of by-the-numbers “Hitchcockian” thriller, complete with a Macguffin and lightly humorous supporting characters. And again, it’s still well made and all, but the entire time I felt like I was watching a movie I had seen 10 times already; entertained but not involved or surprised at anything. Even the would-be twist ending involving squibs was expected (it didn’t help that director Anthony Waller foolishly shows the woman’s un-shot back in between shots of her “bullet riddled” front).
Waller does do a good job of finding ways to keep the woman’s muteness tied into the story. She gets stuck with one of the killers and can’t explain to her friend why, she can’t call for help, etc. It’s not as gimmick-y as I expected, the movie as a whole wouldn’t really work had she had the ability to communicate (as opposed to the mute girl in Hellraiser II, a disability without any sort of payoff or real narrative function whatsoever). However, I would have liked a scene where she sees a murder about to happen and can’t alert the victim or something – all of the scenes revolving around her communication problems are about endangering HER - but oh well.
Speaking of language quirks – a lot of the dialogue in the movie is Russian, yet these lines are not subtitled. Even with the English sub track on, the Russian words are skipped over. Since our villains more or less exclusively speak Russian, this results in full conversations occurring without the benefit of knowing what is being said. It’s one thing when they make obvious, short statements (like if a guy points at someone and yells a word or two in another language, and then his comrades begin to give chase, you can pretty much guess that he’s saying “after them!” or something), but when it’s a full conversation – one about the object that is causing all of the trouble no less – it’s a bit odd to be left completely in the dark.
One thing that DID surprise was how much nudity was in the film. The murder that sets off the narrative occurs after some hot n heavy lovemaking, and our heroine even disrobes (twice), once in a silly scene in which she tries to get the attention of a guy across the street. Speaking of which, the other surprise was how (intentionally) sitcom-y the movie got at times; her two friends in particular run around like they just stepped in out of Dharma and Greg or something.
It’s also Alec Guinness’ last film. He appears in a few shots (his role was filmed like nine years before the rest of the movie; Bela Lugosi style) as The Reaper, leader of a snuff ring. Even in the nearly wordless role, he shows genuine class.
All in all, I’d say it’s a decent thriller that was lucky to come along during a horror draught. Everything in the film has been done better, but at the time it was released, in the mid 90s (pre-Scream) when no one was making horror movies, it was a breath of fresh air. I wish I hadn’t waited so long, but oh well. Beats the hell out of my idea for a thriller, in which a guy who can’t smell is chased around a flower shop by a giant sewage man. I call it DEATH STINKS.
What say you?