Director: Werner Herzog
Duration: 107 min.
In his fascinating exploration of a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas, master filmmaker Werner Herzog probes the human psyche to explore why people kill-and why a state kills.
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, is a documentary written and directed by Werner Herzog. It premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.
Like with all of his documentaries, Herzog approaches the subject with his unique and inquisitive style to produce an absolutely chilling examination of life, death, and human nature. It follows the 2001 case of a triple homicide that occurred in Conroe, Texas, with archival footage, and interviews with the perpetrators and family members of the victims.
Although it is quite clear early on that he is anti-capital punishment, Herzog does not make the issue, the focus of his film. His own presence is kept to a minimum as well, never directly appearing on screen, nor even offering up his trademark wild and fascinating narrative speculations. Instead, Into the Abyss focuses mainly on a series of interviews, which are punctuated by strangely profound questions and answers, ones that only Werner Herzog would be capable of eliciting.
These interviews include an unsettling one on one with death row inmate Michael Perry, eight days before his execution. An outwardly cheery and forthcoming individual, the young looking Perry is all smiles and accommodating with his answers, but there is also something very creepy about the look in his eyes that I'm sure made the director glad that there was a thick glass wall in between them.
Other interviews with Perry's accomplice Jason Burkett, who is serving a 40 year sentence for his role in the killings, as well as Burkett's incarcerated father, along with candid words from members of the local community, shed some ominous light on the roots and origins, the vicious cycle of poverty, poor education, and lack of parental guidance that produces people like Perry and Burkett. He also doesn't neglect to take a look at the state employees, from the police investigators to the death row officers.
The result is a sobering and even handed exploration of the repercussions of a senseless crime. It might not be as cinematically riveting as you would expect from a Herzog documentary, but Into the Abyss is just as equally profound as anything he's ever done. Don't miss it.
— Bonjour Tristesse