Into the Abyss Review | Film | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
Loading...

Into the Abyss Review 

Werner Herzog checks in after the murders, before the death penalty

Thursday, Nov 10 2011
Comments

An egalitarian study of crime and punishment in a small Southern town, Into the Abyss is also an unmistakably Herzogian inquiry into the lawlessness of the human soul. That would be the abyss of the title, though if you're looking for more of that kind of shameless lyrical swagger, you might be disappointed by the documentary's lack of Werner Herzog's signature, Cousteau-on-Quaaludes narration. Here the director is a more spectral presence, an outsider in Conroe, Texas, warmly urging on his subjects — including the two young men convicted of three particularly senseless murders — from behind the camera.

Told through the lens of character, Abyss has the design of a nose-to-tail true-crime story like In Cold Blood but lacks its immersive texture and comprehensive scope.

Herzog had only half an hour with each prisoner, one of whom — 28-year-old Michael Perry — was scheduled for execution eight days after their 2010 interview. Ten years after their convictions, neither man cops to killing a middle-aged woman, her son and another teenager. Each is petulant in his blame of the other; the long stretch of crime-scene footage that opens the film accompanied by a pleading string progression and the description given by the detective assigned to the case tells a different story. Instead, the prisoners talk of their upbringing, their families, their exploits on the outside. Perry comes off as a genial cipher, while his handsome partner, Jason Burkett, who was sentenced to life, emerges in greater dimension. Herzog seeks out Burkett's incarcerated father as well as his correspondence bride, who, by the end of the film, is pregnant with Burkett's child.

click to enlarge Into the Abyss
  • Into the Abyss

Location Info

Related Stories

  • Halloween L.A. Screenings

    Ah, October in Los Angeles. Pumpkin-flavored treats at every coffee shop and bakery, weather so brisk it occasionally drops below 70 degrees and the promise of Halloween candy just around the corner. If you seek more frightening thrills and you don't feel like driving to Universal so some dude dressed...
  • Nicolas Cage Interview

    On the occasion of the Aero's weekend-long tribute to Nicolas Cage, L.A. Weekly spoke to the actor about his unique stye (dubbed "Nouveau Shamanic" by Cage himself), the first time he met Werner Herzog, and the directors he'd still like to work with. Below is the full conversation. You can also see...
  • The 20 Best Vampire Movies, 1979 to the Present 14

    Our review of this week's Dracula Untold doesn't inspire much hope: "This Dracula Begins-style sword-and-fangs curio plays like someone said, 'What if we took a vampire flick but did a find-and-replace swapping out all that bare-neck sensuality for some video-game ass-kicking?'" But for every genre-entry failure, there are numerous other...
  • 20 Worst Hipster Movies of All Time 48

    How to describe a hipster movie? Invoking the “I know it when I see it” rule seems an easy way out of applying a definitive label to something so nebulous, but there are a number of hallmarks to be wary of. Soundtracks consisting of indie, folk, and/or anachronistic songs that...
  • Bicycle Film Fest

    Friday, April 4 Many have imitated him, an infamous meme has been created in honor of him, and his hairline gets more buzz than most. And starting tonight, the Aero will host Out on a Limb: A Tribute to Nicolas Cage, a weekend-long showcase of his acting chops with five of his...

Equal time is given to the family members of the murdered, each of whom makes a kind of victim statement while brandishing framed pictures of their loved ones. Choked pauses and dangling close-ups are pushed for ecstatic effect; Herzog's opposition to the death penalty is clear, but loaded aesthetic overtures are made to both sides of the argument. His subjects — including a death-chamber chaplain and a former executioner — often veer from testimony to intimate tangent, moments arranged to form the film's gothic microcosm.

Compelling as portraiture but short of a profound whole, Abyss is at its totalizing best when it recalls the courtroom observation of another Perry, Truman Capote's murderer-muse: "I'll be damned if I'm the only killer in the room."

INTO THE ABYSS | Written and directed by WERNER HERZOG | Sundance Selects | ArcLight Hollywood, Landmark

Related Content

Related Locations

Now Showing

  1. Thu 23
  2. Fri 24
  3. Sat 25
  4. Sun 26
  5. Mon 27
  6. Tue 28
  7. Wed 29

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Movie Trailers

View all movie trailers >>

Now Trending