Returning to one of his favorite themes, master filmmaker Werner Herzog finds himself in Texas exploring why occasionally some people murder others, and why the Lone Star state does the same. He does so through the lens of a single case with the help of the condemned criminals themselves, their family, the surviving family of their victims, as well as a handful of death house professionals that impart their knowledge on the process, and the psychological impact of their job. With this opus of death, Herzog’s Into the Abyss questions the use of capital punishment through raw conversation, and crude crime scene footage, culminating in yet another introspective examination of the violence found within human nature.
Deconstructing the brutal triple homicide that occurred in Conroe, Texas in October of 2001, Herzog tries to understand why Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, a pair of teenagers at the time, killed three innocents for the chance to drive a convertible Chevy Camero. After two days of free wheeling their stolen Camero, a violent shootout with police, and subsequent trips to the hospital for gunshot wounds, the two were placed under arrest for the murder of a mother, her son, and his friend. Both were convicted (though for different pieces of the crime as a whole); Perry received a death sentence that was carried out on July 1, 2010, and Burkett was slapped with a life sentence with a chance for parole starting in 2041. Both men deny murdering anyone, blaming the other for the bloodshed despite concrete evidence that proves otherwise.
With his signature ever-so-gentile accented questioning, the director asks directly, but respectfully the why’s, what’s, how’s, who’s, and what if’s to lay out the event, its affecting waves, and the downfalls of capital punishment. Not only do we get to know a little about the personalities behind bars, but we come to understand how they really came to be there. Both boys were surrounded by criminals growing up, whether it be a drug addict father (Burkett) or bad seed friends (Perry). That said, a family lineage of cycling crime is no excuse for the execution of innocent human life, but some people just aren’t given a fair shake in life, and Herzog wants us to remember that. Maybe things could have been better, if only.
IFC Films has once again taken the reigns of a new Herzog home release. Though this disc doesn’t boast any juicy extras as Cave of the Forgotten Dreams had, it does possess a great digital transfer for top notch home viewing. The film is made up of new HD interviews and decade-old SD crime scene footage. Though quality-wise, the old footage pails in comparison to the new, it is cleaned up a bit, and maintains its original 4:3 ratio thanks to letterboxing. The DTS-HD 5.1 master track doesn’t seem necessary here, as all the sound is conversation based, and never reaches the surround speakers, but it sounds great none-the-less. All dialog is well mixed, making for easily understandable speech. The disc itself comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case.
Like the film, the trailer exudes a chilling aura that perfectly conveys what the film is about. It is an excellent example of trailer editing done right.
Into The Abyss strangely could be the title of almost any of Werner Herzog’s films, but it is quite fitting for this one in particular. Though he draws out this horrific story with his soothing voice, he allows us to gaze into the dark hearts of murders, and shows us how their ugly acts have emptied the lives of others. Through it all, it is an empathetic examination of homicide, and a quiet call for the repeal of capital punishment. Whether or not Michael Perry deserved to die for his crimes is a matter of opinion, but Herzog wanted us to know the facts before we threw the hammer of judgment down. Consider us informed, entertained, and thoroughly bewildered.
- Film Review
- Disc Review