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Into The Abyss (2011)


Average Rating: 7.7/10
Reviews Counted: 102
Fresh: 93
Rotten: 9

Critics Consensus: Another probing, insightful look at an interesting subject, Werner Herzog explores the American prison system with passion and not politics.

Average Rating: 7.6/10
Reviews Counted: 29
Fresh: 25
Rotten: 4

Critics Consensus: Another probing, insightful look at an interesting subject, Werner Herzog explores the American prison system with passion and not politics.


Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 7,824


Movie Info

In his fascinating exploration of a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas, master filmmaker Werner Herzog probes the human psyche to explore why people kill-and why a state kills. In intimate conversations with those involved, including 28-year-old death row inmate Michael Perry (scheduled to die within eight days of appearing on-screen), Herzog achieves what he describes as "a gaze into the abyss of the human soul." Herzog's inquiries also extend to the families of the victims and perpetrators … More

PG-13 (for mature thematic material and some disturbing images)
Documentary , Special Interest
Directed By:
Written By:
Werner Herzog
In Theaters:
Apr 10, 2012
Box Office:
IFC Films - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Into The Abyss

All Critics (105) | Top Critics (29) | Fresh (93) | Rotten (9) | DVD (4)

The result is gripping, moving and revelatory, an unabashed if implicit critique of the death penalty.

Full Review… | March 27, 2012
Time Out
Top Critic

Herzog is pursuing no agenda with Into the Abyss, despite his opposition to extreme judicial measures. He's seeking to answer the question of why people kill, especially in a situation such as this where the reason for the murders was so meaningless.

Full Review… | December 9, 2011
Toronto Star
Top Critic

Into the Abyss does what too few documentaries these days do - it gives ample play to all sides of the argument. Herzog allows us to think things through on our own.

Full Review… | December 2, 2011
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic

The overriding point of Into the Abyss, what keeps this sad, sorrowful film from becoming depressing and elevates it far above the usual chatter of liberal-conservative debate, is that there can be light on the other end of even the darkest of tunnels.

Full Review… | November 30, 2011
Miami Herald
Top Critic

"Into the Abyss" makes a strong case for the inhumanity of capital punishment, regardless of the crime or the criminal.

Full Review… | November 23, 2011
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic

Herzog's investigation may not work as an anti-death-penalty editorial, but its findings are undeniably profound.

Full Review… | November 18, 2011
Top Critic

The star filmmaker, oft mocked for verging on self-parody, keeps his Teutonic explorer persona in check and allows his subjects' emotional outpourings-sadness, shame, dread, and desperation, and unexpected glimmers of hope and happiness-to set the tone.

Full Review… | July 1, 2013
Film Comment Magazine

A smart documentary that takes sides in the death penalty debate but never shies away from the horrendous crimes at the center of the story.

Full Review… | June 30, 2013
Big Hollywood

A virtuoso work, unparalleled in Herzog's career. And it'll just break your heart.

Full Review… | June 22, 2013

Questions if the state has the right to murder.

Full Review… | January 27, 2013
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Herzog is empathetic and non-judgmental, even as his interview subjects try to rationalize their lives, declare their innocence and the like.

Full Review… | December 28, 2012
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

This is humane, fascinating documentary filmmaking that is willing to confront insurmountable issues. And as is the case with most true crime material: truth is stranger than fiction.

Full Review… | September 27, 2012
The Aristocrat

It is also a devastating portrait of the culture of crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and broken families ...

Full Review… | May 19, 2012

Herzog's engrossing examination of a real life triple murder demonstrates that evil doesn't reside only on death row.

Full Review… | April 9, 2012
KC Active

It is a film full of despair, but it's also compelling, and Herzog's interview with a death-row groupie towards the end of the film provides a horribly grim punchline.

Full Review… | April 1, 2012

Werner Herzog's documentary about a triple murder in Texas is a compelling reflection on capital punishment.

Full Review… | March 31, 2012
Observer [UK]

The honesty of the flesh, the absurdity of the sacred, the enduring equivalence of meaninglessness that all men share. Into the Abyss: a Tale of Death, a Tale of Life finds its foothold here.

Full Review… | March 30, 2012
Electric Sheep

The film trawls the bottomless depth of hopeless criminals as much as it examines the "correctional" system.

Full Review… | March 30, 2012
Sun Online


Full Review… | March 30, 2012
Daily Mirror [UK]

A powerful, poignant film.

Full Review… | March 30, 2012
Daily Express

[Forces] viewers to face complex questions about society, justice and the sanctity of life.

Full Review… | March 29, 2012
Radio Times

It's a decent film, though I felt that a clearer, sharper light could have been cast on the defendants themselves.

Full Review… | March 29, 2012

The extensive use of lurid crime scene videos and subtitles set in a naff typewriter font sit uneasily with the director's opposition to capital punishment.

Full Review… | March 29, 2012
Daily Telegraph

When Tolstoy said all unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways, perhaps he was thinking of Texas. But even he reckoned without the rich, extraordinary complexities of unhappiness chronicled in Herzog's film.

Full Review… | March 29, 2012
Financial Times

Moving and thought-provoking in equal measure. A Herzog doc of the highest order.

Full Review… | March 29, 2012
Little White Lies

Offers a convincing and depressing critique of capital punishment in the US while somehow managing to find a glimmer of hope in what Herzog calls the urgency of life.

Full Review… | March 28, 2012

Audience Reviews for Into The Abyss

I find Herzog's typical lack of agenda to be refreshing although I think it confuses many. In Into the Abyss he explores why people kill, his only opinion voiced is that killing is wrong and the rest is as it is. It's the purest form of documentary really when you think about it, nothing is forced and no one is targeted. It is a document of people, at a time, in a place. You should always be the one who determines your own opinion, Werner simply instigates the discussion. My opinion? Don't live in Texas - if you don't get murdered you'll probably get hit by a train! In all seriousness though, this is worth watching for the honest interview with one of the fathers of the accused who is also serving time in prison. Heartbreaking stuff.

Anthony Lawrie

Super Reviewer

This is a unique documentary and it is one that takes a look at a death row inmate and the story behind his crime. Into the Abyss is a solid film, but one that is hard to watch, and is the type of film that you only need to see once. Due to its subject matter, it's not one worth watching again. This is a powerful in your documentary. Werner Hezrog narrates and interviews the subjects, each tell their story and Hezrog interviews the victim's family and other people that are part of the case. The film is disturbing and is a truly one of a kind. This is a well crafted documentary and one worth seeing, but it is not for everyone. The subject Michael Perry is clearly a psycho and he claims his innocence, even if the DNA evidence says otherwise. Although interesting, I won't rewatch this, and it is quite hard times to watch, especial when you hear the victim's story. The film gives us an in depth look at Death row, and it's an unforgettable film that is sure to stay with you long after you see it. This is a brilliant movie that is sure to entertain documentary lovers. The subject is intense, but quite captivating, and Hezrog does not portray Perry as a victim, if you look closely, you can clearly see that Perry is deranged, and thinks he did no wrong. Well, Hezrog definitely proves that he's a murderer who has no empathy or sympathy for the victims. His last words were even I forgive you for the wrong that you committed to me, as if the victims haven't suffered enough. Hezrog shows Perry exactly as he is a murderer with no conscience. Into the Abyss is unforgettable documentary filmmaking at its very best.

Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer


Fred Allen: Hold still and watch the birds. Once you get up into your life like that, and once you feel good about your life, you do start watching what the birds do. What the doves are doing. The hummingbirds. My, there's so many of them. 

"A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life"

Into the Abyss is another remarkable documentary from one of films greatest ever, Werner Herzog. It's crazy how he can inject beauty into everything he touches. Now with Into the Abyss, the beauty isn't overpowering, as the story doesn't really call for it, but it's still there. It's in the questions that Herzog asks, it's in the statements members of the deceased families makes; it's there. 

This documentary follows a triple murder and the two men charged with the crime. One of which was put to death, the other was sentenced to life in prison. Both men claim they had no involvement in the murder. Herzog isn't trying to make a case that either of the men is guilty or innocent. He's not tying to make a case for the abolition of the death penalty. He states that he doesn't believe human beings should be executed, but he enters the story with no bias at all in his presentation of everything. This is something that very few documentaries made on controversial subjects are able to do. Most of the time, the filmmakers bias will enter into the story. Herzog's does not and that's his genius.

Interviews include a clergy member who goes to see men who are about to be put to death, a sister and daughter of two of the victims, a brother of the other victim, the father of one of the man who was sentenced for life, a man who worked at the place where death row inmates take their final breath, and the wife of the man who was sentenced to life. Each and every interview has extreme power because what is spoken is spoken from the heart. Herzog is spot on with the questions he asks too. He always knows where to take an interview and he does so here with precise perfection.

Into the Abyss is a great documentary and just proves once again why Herzog is a legend. It's sad to watch the families talk about it all, but once again Herzog does find the beauty in it. The film can be hard to watch at times because of the subject material and all of the facts that are brought out, but it is a film that deserves to be watched. 

Melvin White

Super Reviewer


Master filmmaker Werner Herzog does it again. This time, he investigates a triple homicide case that took place in 2001 in Conroe, Texas. Along the way, he delves into why people kill, and why states enact the death penalty. Despite clearly stating his opinion on the subject, Herzog comes to this documentary with no agenda, and lets viewers ultimately decide for themselves what is right or wrong.

Incorporating police footage, interviews with family of the victims, law men, clergy men, the perpetrators, and others, this is a tremendously gripping and fascinating piece of work. It can be quite hard to watch at times, but it is so compelling that you can't help but watch. And, despite a few light hearted and quirky moments, this definitely ranks as one of Herzog's most depressing and unsettling films.

It could have been so easy for him to get on a soap box and preach for a while, but Herzog takes the smart route and just tells a story, leaving the tough stuff up to the viewer, which, with a touchy subject like capital punishment, is the best way to go. Highly recommended.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Into The Abyss Quotes

Werner Herzog:
Wow. I never realized the extent of capital punishment till I saw this. Who won in this? It seems to me, there was no win. Just a lot of losses. The state of Texas is no different from taking a life than Micheal Perry. Again... Wow.
– Submitted by Barbara M (24 months ago)
Michael Perry:
I tell people all the time, I'm either going home, or home.
– Submitted by Chris P (2 years ago)
Jason Burkett:
I want fifty children.
– Submitted by Chris P (2 years ago)

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