top of page
  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Mute Witness 4K UHD Review


Arrow Video

4K UHD Release: June 11, 2024

Video: 2.40:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English LPCM 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 96:35

Director: Anthony Waller


Billy Hughes (Marina Sudina) is a mute special effects artist working on a low-budget American slasher movie being shot in Russia. Accidentally locked in the studio late one night, she stumbles upon two men shooting what appears to be a snuff film. Having borne witness to their victim’s final moments, Billy desperately flees – but this is only the start of a protracted night of terror, drawing her and her friends into a tangled web of intrigue, involving the KGB, the Moscow police… and a mysterious crime kingpin known as The Reaper. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)



Snuff films occupy a strange place between shocking reality and macabre urban legend in that we know for a fact that murderers have recorded their crimes, yet the idea of an organized network of snuff filmmakers & buyers as yet remains in the realms of horror fiction. Perhaps due to the home video market peaking at the same time that the internet was emerging, the ‘90s saw a short burst of thrillers about characters stumbling upon snuff rings. Since they were often sold under the designation of ‘Hitchcockian,’ these were generally considered more respectable than late-stage slashers, but had a similar post-Scream postmodern slickness. First-time writer/director Anthony Waller’s Russian-UK-German co-production, Mute Witness, was released in 1995, early in the mini-cycle and predating Hollywood snuff thrillers, like Joel Schumacher’s 8mm (1999) and Johnny Depp’s The Brave (1997), as well as a longer run of visceral mid-2000s horror films that were dubbed ‘torture porn’ by cultural gatekeepers.


Probably due in part to the success of other imported thrillers, like George Sluizer’s The Vanishing (Dutch: Spoorloos, 1988) and Ole Bornedal’s Nightwatch (Danish: Nattevagten, 1994), Mute Witness had limited US theatrical release, but its success is often retroactively overshadowed by Alejandro Amenábar’s snuff psychodrama Thesis (Spanish: Tesis, 1996). Both are referential, genre-savvy, and share the idea of an isolated female (a variation on the Final Girl) as lead – but their goals are different enough that the comparison isn’t really fair. Thesis is a disturbing intellectual exercise in horror that wants to send its audience home in a state of shock, while Mute Witness is a tightly-knit romp that isn’t afraid of cracking jokes at the expense of the genre. Waller focuses on flashy technique, gags, and Home Alone-worthy set-pieces over plot, and relishes in goosing his audience after a particularly tense moment. It doesn’t stick with you like Thesis does, but it is a fun ride worth taking for fans of neo-Hitchcockian filmmakers, like Brian De Palma and Dario Argento.



Viewers outside the horror and cult thriller bubble tend to know Mute Witness for an unusual bit of trivia involving Sir Alec Guiness’ cameo. According to Waller, he had met the actor by chance in 1985 and that Guinness happily agreed to shoot a single scene out of the goodness of his heart without pay. By the time Waller had arranged funding, the Soviet Union collapsed, delaying the film for several more years. It took a decade to finish the edit, at which point Guinness was semi-retired. As such, it ended up being his final theatrical role. Unfortunately, Waller’s Hollywood career didn’t exactly take off. His next film was the ill-fated pseudo-sequel to John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981), An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), followed by a barely released remake of a UK crime miniseries, The Guilty (2000). He’s still working, though, having put out a Elizabeth Hurley horror vehicle called The Piper just last year.


Bibliography

  • Killing for Culture: From Edison to ISIS: A New History of Death on Film by David Kerekes & David Slater (Headpress, 2016)



Video

Mute Witness had a healthy, mainstream VHS rental release via Columbia Tristar, who also released it on Laserdisc and barebones anamorphic DVD. An HD version was available for streaming rental, but no company ever put out a Blu-ray edition until now. Arrow has produced separate Blu-ray and UHD editions and is releasing them simultaneously in the US, Canada, and the UK. The 4K restoration was supplied directly by Jinga Films, so there isn’t a lot of information about the new 2160p transfer, other than the fact that Waller approved it himself.


I have included screencaps from Arrow’s Blu-ray on this page for illustrative purposes. Obviously, they aren’t illustrating the UHD’s detail and HDR boosts – both of which mitigate the muddiness of some of the darkest shots – but they are a good indication of color-timing and the slight sheen of machine noise to some of the grainier shots (though that too is somewhat mitigated by the sharper details). In accordance with that slicker-than-grease mid-’90s thriller look, cinematographer Egon Werdin’s photography can be quite delicate at times, so the increased clarity is welcome. Apparently, Mute Witness was shot in open-matte Super 35mm and the Laserdisc version was misframed at 1.85:1, creating minor confusion as to the intended aspect ratio.



Audio

Mute Witness is presented in its original English (though it takes place in Russia, so there is some Russian dialogue) and uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo sound. It’s not a particularly aggressive mix that mostly depends on the balance of dialogue and music, and, as the title indicates, there’s not a whole lot of dialogue, at least once our heroine becomes trapped in the studio. The purposefully soft mix is occasionally spiked with stylized stereo enhancements to ratchet the tension and Wilbert Hirsch’s original score is almost constantly humming beneath the mix and setting the tone (honestly, sometimes to the detriment of the film).



Extras

  • Commentary with Anthony Waller – The first of the almost all newly produced extras is a commentary with the writer/director, who approaches the track with the tone of a warm-natured educator. Waller occasionally gets lost in describing what’s happening in a scene and runs out of steam about halfway through the film, but is otherwise full of anecdotes about the cast, crew, and unwieldy production circumstances.

  • Commentary with production designer Matthias Kammermeier and composer Wilbert Hirsch – This composer and production designer track is moderated by critic and author Lee Gambin, who passed away unexpectedly less than a month before this disc was released. The discussion is a nice companion piece to Waller’s commentary that doesn’t overlap too much and, when it does, it benefits from being told from a different point of view. Gambin also does a fine job interviewing the commentators and keeping them on topic.

  • The Silent Death: Snuff Films and Mute Witness (11:33, HD) – A new visual essay by the critic and author of The Giallo Canvas: Art, Excess and Horror Cinema (McFarland, 2021), Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who explores the film’s meta-textual, faux behind-the-scenes concept, in particular the many references it makes to other genre films, and connections to other ‘snuff fiction’ (a term she coined) movies and thrillers centered on mute women. 

  • The Wizard Behind the Curtain: Films Within Films and Mute Witness (23:23, HD) – Critic, author, and director of Queen of Blood (2014) Chris Alexander further explores the concept of fictional films-within-films and metafictional horror in general.

  • Snuff Movie: Presentation Video (25:08, SD) – An archival 1992 promo piece, produced to generate interest from investors, featuring interviews with Waller and members of the creative team, as well as clips from short films Waller made as a teenager and college student.

  • Original location scouting footage (7:30, SD)

  • Raw Alec Guinness footage (2:41, HD)

  • Teaser and trailer

  • Image gallery



The images on this page are taken from Arrow’s same-day Blu-ray release – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

0 comments

Comentarios


bottom of page