There's nothing worse than seeing a great sci-fi premise completely mangled in a film that doesn't understand how translate a solid idea into a coherent movie. Thankfully, Michael Henry's Mute - a story about a dystopian Britain where speaking and public freedoms have been outlawed by Spectrum, an all-seeing, all-powerful murderous conglomerate - more or less realises its promising set-up. Following Charlie, a disgruntled Spectrum employee who finds companionship in Mandy, the same rebellious type he's paid to turn over to the authorities, Mute uses its intriguing premise to comment on modern communication and creative expression. And while it doesn't hit all the ambitious shots it sets up for itself, the convincing characters and at times striking cinematography keeps the film centred even in its most meandering moments.

At only a brisk 70 minutes, Mute manages to cover a lot of ground. From bubbling revolutions and explorations of the inner workings of Spectrum, to murderous cover-ups and on-the-run fugitives, the film hints and prods at a larger universe, remaining suitably ambiguous in a way that shrouds its dystopian setting in paranoia and mystery. Fortunately though, a brilliant family dynamic between Charlie and his father, a relationship that's become strained and volatile after Charlie's mother was taken by the regime, takes centre stage in between all of these nebulous sub-plots. The development of this narrative in particular justifies the sci-fi premise, boasting some deeply affecting emotional beats that are completely brought to life by an initially unassuming cast. It's refreshing to see such an interesting focus on character at the heart of a dystopian setting like this, and director Michael Henry's dedication to exploring these personalities succeeds in bringing these emotional dynamics to life.

Unfortunately, where Mute faults is in its sporadic attempts at absurdist comedy. While the setting is ripe for some well-executed black humour, more often than not these moments end up jarring with the otherwise grounded tone of the movie, sticking out as poorly thought-out distractions in scenes that otherwise didn't need any. There's some running gags that raise a couple of smirks - the impotent sociopathic tendencies of Tom Bridger's Doc stands out in particular - but for the most part the humour itself just doesn't work. Generally the movie mistakes swearing for jokes, and it results in moments that you aren't sure if they're being played for laughs or supposed to be read as honest attempts at drama. It's a shame, because the movie works best when it's exploring the intense relationship between Charlie and his father or gracing us with imaginative visual storytelling, and the inclusion of such poorly judged humour detracts from the well-executed atmosphere that's captured in the majority of these scenes.

However, although the movie was clearly made on a small-scale and with a limited budget, Mute often uses these restrictions to its own advantage. As a result, although you're never given a full understanding of just how powerful Spectrum is (they're able appear out of nowhere in the opening to murder one person speaking in public but are shown to be unable to discover an entire club full of rebels later in the film), it never truly becomes a problem. Although it can at times feel like an over-long episode of Black Mirror, the movie is never anywhere near as on-the-nose or obnoxious, and it's the subtle character moments and quiet observations that make Mute worth seeing.

Ultimately, the film is more concerned with the characters at the heart of the story as opposed to flaunting the originality of its premise. Consequently, Henry's preoccupation with freedom and creativity becomes the movie's selling point, thematically explored throughout Mute's brisk run-time. Rather than delving into the dystopian inner workings of this oppressive new state, Henry's film excels in character and personality, fully realised through a wealth of thoughtful and resonant wordless scenes. While these are somewhat weakened by the multitude of jarring tones, Mute comes together in its final act to deliver a surprisingly powerful and poignant finale that just about makes you forgive any missteps it made along the way. Just about.