'INTO THE ABYSS' REVIEW: EMOTIONS ON DEATH ROW
November 11, 2011: "Into the Abyss", a Werner Herzog documentary about a killer on Death Row, opens today as part of the DOC NYC festival.
Written, directed and narrated by Herzog in his familiar singsong cadences, "Into the Abyss" explores the case of Michael James Perry, who was convicted with accomplice Jason Burkett for a 2001 triple murder in Conroe, Texas. Their motive: a red Camaro. Perry got the death sentence. Burkett got life. In interviews, each blames the other for the killings.
Subtitled "A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life," Herzog's film is built around contemplative and revealing talks with inmates, family members, a sheriff, a reverend, an ex-Death Row supervisor and a few local characters.
Herzog remains offscreen but gently present, prodding his subjects to explore their deepest feelings. Because that's what matters to him: emotions. Not facts - not the truth of what happened that night, not the guilt or innocence of Perry and Burkett, not even the raw number-crunching for Texas executions, although Herzog makes clear his opposition to the death penalty.
In jailhouse interviews, the perpetrators come across as oddly mature (Burkett) and unnervingly childlike (Perry). Much more stunning - and candid - are clips of Burkett's dad, a repeat felon himself, as he assesses his own failings as a parent. Jason, he says, "had trash for a father."
"Into the Abyss" bears the usual Herzog hallmarks: the uncanny music (in this case, restless string arrangements by Mark De Gli Antoni); the clear-eyed cinematography by Peter Zeitlinger, scattered with eerie Herzogian stillness; the flights of poetic narration. His usual fixation on the madness of nature shows up once, as Perry recalls an Everglades canoe trip plagued by alligators and monkeys. But Herzog, as ever, is obsessed most of all with human nature: "Into the Abyss" explores our deepest urges to love, and live, and kill. (Sources: Sfgate.com, 11/11/2011)