Into the Abyss (12A)

“Tell me about an encounter with a squirrel.” Werner Herzog could never be accused of being an atypical documentary film-maker; along with admissions of scripting, he always seems to (some might say suspiciously) find characters who match his eccentricity.

There is no arguing with his output though; recent years have seen Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn, Encounters at the End of the World and Cave of Forgotten Dreams all being critical acclaimed upon release.

Into the Abyss is an exploration into why people kill-and why the State kills, appropriately subtitled “A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life”. Focussing on a triple-homicide in Conroe, Texas, Herzog’s documentary comprises intimate conversations with those affected by the crime including the two perpetrators; Michael Perry and Jason Burkett (Perry is due to be executed only a few days after being interviewed). Herzog speaks to the families and friends of the victims and villains alike, building up a complete picture of the full ramifications of the crime.

Split into several chapters, Into the Abyss is aptly bookended by two men not directly involved with the case; a chaplain who assists in executions and a former executioner. Whilst the rest of the documentary focuses on the crime, Herzog’s most effective narrative derives from his conversations with these two men.

Not just an enthralling insight into the human condition, Into the Abyss is a deeply moving and thought-provoking piece of work. Herzog’s eccentricities and manipulations result in a deeper insight into the sphere of crime and punishment than a straight documentary film-maker would likely have achieved. His willingness to embrace stillness, without rushing the speaker or editing-out long pauses, allows the interviewees the time to do a lot more than merely answer the questions put to them.

Do not be put-off by the subject matter; anyone with a lively mind, and a thirst for knowledge and understanding, will find much to enjoy and stimulate in this film. However, it will do little for the Texas tourism industry: Conroe, or the wonderfully named Cut and Shoot, make Kandahar seem like a 5* tourist enclave.

Screening at the Showroom