Log In

Reset Password

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life

Friday at 9.15pm at Liberty Theatre.

‘Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life’, is a documentary by Werner Herzog about two men convicted of a triple murder in Conroe, Texas.

One of them, Michael Perry, was just a teenager at the time of the crime. He was sentenced to death, and interviewed by Herzog for the film just days before his execution.

The documentary also features interviews with the families of the victims and Perry’s accomplice in the crime, Jason Burkett, who got a life sentence.

Burkett’s father is interviewed too; he’s serving a life sentence for another crime. The documentary also features a tearful prison chaplain and a corrections officer who used to work in the “death room” at a Texas jail but quit in a fit of conscience.

The film is not one for anyone who is of a nervous disposition or allergic to the sight of blood and corpses. It begins by documenting the scene of the crime in gruesome detail, with minimal narration and lots of violin music in order to “set the scene” for the interviews to come.

Although I can see why the director would want to do this, I personally felt it was unnecessarily macabre and the soundtrack was schmaltzy to the point where it was in bad taste.

There is quite enough darkness and sorrow involved in the stories told without the need for maudlin music and voyeuristic, lingering shots of scenes of death.

The interviews with all concerned are moving, thought-provoking and certainly enough to make anyone contemplate whether the death penalty should be abolished.

It is particularly tough watching the interview with the lively, engaging Perry who is not yet 30 years old, knowing he is about to go to the executioner’s chair.

Likewise, the interviews with the families of the culprits and victims gives a harrowing insight into a part of the world with more than its fair share of family dysfunction and tragedy.

However, there was one aspect that really got on my nerves, turning what should have been an excellent documentary into one that was merely good. Herzog does not appear in his own film and there is little in the way of narration. Yet his questions to the interviewees are filled with his own opinions and he frequently interrupts them in mid-flow to finish their sentences for them, entirely unnecessarily.

I was frequently left wondering what they were about to say, which surely must not be the aim of any documentary maker.

According to other reviews, Herzog did not intend ‘Into the Abyss’ to be an “anti capital punishment” film. I cannot see how he can claim this. I would have enjoyed the film more if his subjects, who have a wide-ranging and strong set of opinions on the topic, had been left alone to tell their stories in their own words without there being such an obvious “agenda” on the part of the filmmaker.

That said, Herzog certainly gets to grips with presenting his subject matter from every possible angle in a sensitive fashion, with the exception of the crime scene footage. I would recommend the documentary to anyone with a strong stomach who wants to watch an insightful exploration of a difficult subject.

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published March 14, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 14, 2012 at 8:48 am)

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon