Billy (Marina Zudina) is an FX makeup artist who is working on a movie in Moscow. The movie is a cheap slasher, directed by Andy (Evan Richards), who is dating Billy’s sister, Karen (Fay Ripley). One night, after shooting on the slasher film has ended for the day, Billy stumbles upon another film crew shooting what she initially thinks is a porno. Instead, it turns out to be a real-life slasher film as the film’s star is brutally murdered while Billy watches. Though Billy manages to escape from the killers, the police refuse to take her claims seriously. Working with a private detective named Larsen (Oleg Yankovsky), Billy tries to prove that she saw what she saw while also trying to avoid being killed the snuff film crew and the Russian mob.
Mute Witness is an intense, clever, and suspenseful thriller from the mid-90s. It has never got as much attention as it deserves, despite an intriguing premise, a sympathetic protagonist, and an international setting. The film was shot on location and Moscow proves to be the perfect setting for a chilling story about greed, corruption, and murder. When Mute Witness was filmed, the collapse of Soviet communism was still a recent event and there were still a lot of questions about what type of country the new Russia was going to become. The Russian mob was still a relatively new concept to many people. In Mute Witness, post-Soviet Moscow is a dark and menacing place where no one is who they say they are. It’s a city where people can easily disappear, money can buy immunity from scrutiny, and where the horrors of a slasher film can’t begin to compete with the horrors of reality. Though the film was made when Boris Yeltsin was still in charge of Russia, it feels very much like a prediction of the Putin era.
Alec Guinness makes a cameo appearance in Mute Witness. He only appears in one scene but he makes an undeniable impression. His scene was filmed in Germany, months before the rest of the film was shot. (Due to his busy schedule, it was the only time that Guinness was available.) Guinness reportedly did the scene as a favor to director Anthony Waller and offered to do it for free. Genuine class, indeed!
Though Mute Witness was overshadowed by the success of Scream, it was still enough of a critical and cult success that Waller was offered a studio picture. Unfortunately, that film turned out to be An American Werewolf in Paris. Waller has only directed two films since American Werewolf in Paris. That’s a shame as Mute Witness was an auspicious debut and stands the test of the time as one of the better horror thriller to come out of the 90s.