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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. While there she witnesses a brutal murder, and must first escape capture at that time, then keep from being killed before convincing authorities of what she's seen. Plot twists galore follow as Billy tries to stay alive. Written by
James Meek <email@example.com>
How does a movie that starts off so well conclude so horribly?
** 1/2 out of ****
For the better part of an hour, Mute Witness is a first-rate thriller. So good, in fact, it was quickly becoming one of my genre favorites. Good premise, great direction, mostly terrific acting, smart writing, this one had it all. That is until just a bit past the one-hour mark, when the film suddenly makes a mind-boggling idiotic decision to change the tone and approach of the material, and it all devolves into a cheesy mess that left a sour taste in my mouth. This is the perfect example of a would-be great film that's merely recommendable thanks to an awful finish.
Billy Hughes (Marina Zudina) is the make-up artist for a cheesy slasher flick being filmed in Russia. A quick intro shows us that she may be mute, but she's pretty good at her job, which she may have also gotten because her sister is married to the director. After shooting for the day is wrapped up, Billy stays behind and is accidentally locked inside the soundstage. Waiting for help to arrive, she stumbles upon two of the film's crew members shooting a porno film, which quickly becomes a snuff piece.
After a fairly amusing opening scene and an effective set-up of the characters, Mute Witness kicks into full throttle quickly. Immediately after Billy witnesses the murder, we get one of the more suspenseful extended setpieces I've ever seen. These fifteen minutes consist of Billy creeping around the soundstage, desperately trying to avoid those crew members she just witnessed. It's a genuine breathtaking, edge-of-the-seat sequence, quite possibly the movie's highlight.
But the fun's not over. A little over halfway through the picture, we get another great stalk-and-slash sequence inside Billy's apartment. You even get to see cutie Marina Zudina fully nude, in some of the more gratuitous bits of flesh baring I've seen in a while (she has a great-looking butt), not that I'm really complaining. Zudina is probably the best thing about the film, she's not only extremely cute, but also smart and likable, a quick thinker who evades her attackers not because she's physically stronger or faster, but because she's smarter.
(spoilers) While I figured the film couldn't possibly keep the momentum up, I wasn't expecting such a sharp turn of events, either. The film suddenly goes from edgy thriller to a cheesy spy film, packed with silly and predictable double-crosses and plot twists. The simplicity and stark atmosphere of the first hour is gone. The number of villains is bloated from two scary individuals to what is apparently the entire Russian mafia.
The introduction of the undercover cop robs the movie of its key strength. The fun of the plot was watching Billy outthink and outsmart her attackers by herself. Bringing this guy into the mix shoves her into almost a supporting role and virtually reduces her to a mere sidekick/damsel in distress.
Possibly worst of all is the decision to place Billy's sister and her husband into the thick of the action. I don't think I've ever seen such an extreme case of two characters who I initially liked that come to annoy me so much by the climax. These two are made into bumbling fools, they've basically become the film's comic relief. Attempts at humor include them accidentally killing the bad guys, dropping bullets in crucial situations, and generally acting as clumsy as possible but still somehow not getting themselves killed in the process.
Director Anthony Waller had such a firm handle of the movie's pace and tone that I find it hard to believe he'd suddenly undo all his solid work in an instant. But the film's downward spiral is entirely his fault, the man wrote and directed the picture. He should have just stuck with what worked. But the first 2/3's are so much fun, it's worth recommending to thriller fans.
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