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Into The Abyss Reviews

Page 3 of 21
July 15, 2013
A haunting piece of work.
March 9, 2013
very powerful documentary
June 29, 2013
Doesn't really explore the morality of the death penalty at all, though it is very interesting.
Allen G.
June 28, 2013
Before watching this I honestly wondered why Herzog bothered to make it- this came from a larger project Herzog was working on called 'On Death Row' which had actually been my introduction into his work- I thought it was a very well-done series. Now, there were four episodes and neither of them involved the people in question here. This left me wondering why Herzog didn't simply make this story another episode instead of choosing this specific case to make a movie from. In honesty I didn't think that this case was as interesting as previous ones featured on the show. Once I began watching though it quickly became clear why this one became a film and the others did not.

Herzog's documentaries aren't usually about their topic but rather the subjects within them, specifically, the people within them. Grizzly Man for instance isn't really a nature film it is a character study of a man- this is just one example but it applies to the majority of Herzog's documentaries. Now there are exceptions, more typical-format documentaries if you will such as 'Wheel Of Time' which is, for the most part, about the topic from which it take its title. Herzog then has the third strain of documentaries that aren't documentaries at all, they are a strange breed of history and fictitious filmmaking- 'Death For Five Voices' for example.

This is important because I consider the 'On Death Row' series to be the second kind of documentary described above- stuck to the story with Herzog adding artistic touches as the icing on the cake. What became clear with this one though is that it does not share this.

'Into The Abyss' is the first type of Herzog documentary- this isn't really about the death sentence, it isn't really about the man being executed specifically either, in fact he doesn't feature in this very much at all. This is about people, people who have been affected by this one specific case ranging from those convicted to the family of the victims to people who just happened to know those involved in passing- it is a series of stories about a series of people all connected by this one case. That is deserving of a feature-length piece.

Seeing it like that, this was a strong film- there's much emotion and some truly devastating stories from, what seems like relatively normal people, who are involved in this, so uncommon situation. We never learn much about Michael Perry other than that he maintained his innocence. We do however learn about the daughter of one of Perry's victims and her story is as heart breaking as it gets. We speak with so many people from so many areas in this- one is destined to die by lethal injection, one is destined to remain in jail forever, one could be released in their mid-60s, one has to live on without their brother, one has to live on without several members of their family, one is in the stages of creating a family and one is at the start of a new life. Are all these people heading into the abyss? I don't think so- I think some have already been and maybe are still in it and some have even overcome it. It is truly fascinating and devastating getting so close to these people with Herzog's unforgiving camera capturing their every move- from that perspective it is some of Herzog's best documentary-work.

there are some problems though- it is quite clear that this was not a planned feature-length piece- at times it feels very similar to the rather clear-cut approach of the TV series and when it concentrates on the people involved it feels like it is straying from its course. This looks like a fairly simple 'death row documentary' of which there are many but it isn't and that creates a strange viewing experience- we are shown details of the murders, introduced to the people responsible but then we are moved to a man who learned to read late in his life or to a former bartender who has had to block out her work experiences due to what she witnessed. It feels disorganised in a way that Grizzly Man, which has a similar split going on, does not.

With these kinds of films usually comes a political message to boot and sure Herzog states his views here but only in passing- they are more prevalent in the TV series and here they just tend to arise from discussion during interviews. This isn't really a damning conviction of the system, Herzog only needs a few sentences to criticise the system, this is, like most of his work, a story with many interesting characters that just happens to be true. Herzog did a piece on child soldiers after all and he managed to make that fairly un political- if you want something that is dominant in its critique then look elsewhere but if you want something that is dominant through human communication, which is essentially what a camera is all about, then this may just be for you.

It isn't nearly as accessible as you'd expect in this case and Herzog's refusal to make this about himself may be out of the average documentary viewer's comfort zone but this should appeal to Herzog fans though I don't recommend it as an introductory piece due to its uncertain structure.
June 25, 2013
Like Dead Man Walking, but for grownups.
June 23, 2013
I've seen Herzog's tv shows on Death Row and expected something similar. Not sure if this film made much sense. It ind of explored the theme but some of the questions asked were odd. Best interview was with the former prison officer on Death Row. The case in question seemed very much an open and closed book so not one of the more compelling Death Row stories. Not Herzog's best work.

Super Reviewer

May 30, 2013
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.
May 17, 2013
Not a huge fan of documentaries but this one was quite interesting.
May 16, 2013
A useful and emotional look into justice. It contemplates the death penalty, small town mentality, a lack of education, and emotional damage all within the confines of a single case. Herzog especially delves into the idea of whether or not we can really separate our emotional response from proper justice, and how we might improve the justice system and how we deal with it.
May 4, 2013
Herzog was granted access to Death Row in Huntsville, Texas, and interviewed a man/boy convicted of a triple murder (and actually executed 8 days later), as well as his accomplice who received a life sentence (potentially due to the emotional testimony of his father, also serving a life sentence, and also interviewed). So, these are some screwed-up people and the interviews with other townsfolk in Conroe, TX, and with the victims' families, suggest the ill effects of poverty, drugs & alcohol, and guns on a community. Herzog's approach here is not unlike Errol Morris's -- he lets the talking heads speak for themselves and stays out of the way (unlike in his other documentaries where he usually inserts himself or his voiceover). Perhaps the most interesting interviewee is the prison guard who was charged with strapping in those to be executed (by lethal injection) and after 125 executions (up to 2 a week) he finally quit and became anti-capital punishment. This is also Herzog's stance -- and mine -- although he dedicates his film to the victims' families. Supposedly I will be sent a second disc but I'm not sure what will be on it.
Sarfaraz Abbasi
April 25, 2013
Into the Abyss a documentary written and directed by Werner Herzog. Film was shown at Telluride Film Festival in 2011. The documentary covers two person namely Michael Perry (on death-row - and Jason Burkett who is serving life sentence), who are convicted of (3) homicide in the town of Conroe (Texas).

Werner Herozog is a name for German New Wave, he has been pursuing his dream to make documentaries than feature-length movies for many years now. It is said in his interviews that he had wanted to make movie on prison-condition since 70s; but never got the chance to do so. Werner portrays the horrors of maximum-security prison and the effects of crime over families of the victims. It is dynamic in portrayal of miserable conditions of inmates, while also shedding higher light over the families of the victim who are suffering post-incident situations; how they have been coping with their grief.

Very, tense movie and excellent investigation-movie that receives help of original police-evidence footage, to present to viewers. Werner succeeds here.
Jeffrey M

Super Reviewer

April 20, 2013
Werner Herzog is certainly one of the most influential documentary filmmakers of our time, and Into the Abyss represents his examination of the criminal justice system. Like his past documentaries, he does a great job of getting his subjects to say insightful and penetrating, things on screen, with emotional breakdowns commonplace. This is Herzog's greatest strength, getting to the key emotional and political undertones.

The film is often compelling in many of these interviews, with the execution guard testimony being unforgettable. The problem with the documentary, however, is that it simply felt too detached. Herzog's the king of long camera takes, but he indulges that too much here. The story is told, but in too cold of a way, and often confusing. The film itself was also a bit slow, meandering too much after appearing to make a point. In this way, it wasn't always as engaging as Herzog's other efforts, often feeling more tedious than interesting.

Still, it has a lot of interesting things to say, and is worth a watch for any interested in the subject.

3/5 Stars
April 6, 2013
The ex Captain of Death Row was heart breaking. The tale for all concerned was equally so.
April 3, 2013
Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog, 2011)

Might as well get this out of the way at the very beginning. I believe the position from which Werner Herzog made this movie is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And the movie has a clear bias towards that position; in fact, the movie makes no attempt to hide that bias, and Herzog is to be, if not lauded, at least not condemned for trying to pass this off as an impartial documentary. But I'm not going to turn this review into an argument about pro- or anti-death-penalty, because the film deserves a review more impartial than it is. What separates Herzog from biased morons like Michael Moore, Robert Kenner, John Sullivan, etc. is that Herzog-as anyone who's watched more than, oh, three of his movies should be well aware-is just as concerned with how he tells a story as he is with the story he's telling. This is a very important, though sometimes subtle, distinction, but I'll tell you what: as much as I disagree with the material here, I was perfectly willing to take this ride with Herzog, just as much as I was with Grizzly Man or Cave of Forgotten Dreams or Burden of Dreams (in which Herzog is the subject, not the director) or...

Why is this? Because while Herzog is never shy about expressing his repugnance for the death penalty, and cherry-picks his interviews to make sure that everyone who's ever on-screen shares his viewpoint, the fact that he and his subjects are anti-death-penalty is rarely the main focus of any given interview. Herzog's way of interviewing people reminds me of John Edward (remember that guy? "And that man on TV who speaks to the dead, you know that man's a phony"?); he'll read the person's body language and catch the little things that animate someone during a monologue and then grab onto that and get them to elaborate. In the very first sequence, where he's talking to the state chaplain, the guy starts talking about how playing golf is one of the ways he centers himself, he's talking about meditation and being out in the middle of god's beauty, and he starts rattling off the things he might see during a day, the beauty of the grass, the dew, maybe a cow, and he says the word "squirrel" and there must be some little tremor in his voice, or a twitch of the hand off-camera or something, because Herzog's next words are "tell me about an encounter with a squirrel." It's just wildly off-topic, but it's crazy entertaining, and all the sudden our chaplain just lights up and he's talking about this squirrel he had an encounter with and you can't help but be riveted to the screen. It's that sort of ability to read people that made sideshow carnies small fortunes back in the day (and John Edward a much larger one last decade); if Werner Herzog wasn't making movies, he'd be a carny (a la Invincible) or a card sharp (a la The Grand; there's a reason Herzog is the most believable of the non-pros at playing a card sharp in that movie). People have tells, and Herzog uses them to get wonderful interviews, or get excellent performances out of actors (if you've never seen My Best Fiend, about Herzog's long working relationship with Klaus Kinski, you gotta), in the same way Patrik Antonius uses them to get millions of dollars out of the opponents he faces across the felt.

In other words-and this is a very long-winded way of making a point I constantly try to hammer home to people-it doesn't matter what the subject is, and it doesn't matter if you agree with the filmmaker's point of view regarding that subject, when you are in the hands of a truly excellent filmmaker-and Werner Herzog is a truly excellent filmmaker. I will admit that yes, my bias against his position collided with his bias for his position in that I did not like this as well as I did many of the Herzog films I mentioned throughout this review, all of which I would recommend without hesitation. But on the other hand, I look at this and I look at some of Herzog's early works, The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser for example, and it's easy to see how far Herzog has come as a filmmaker in the forty-ish intervening years, and it is, as it almost always is, impossible to criticize this film on any technical level. Werner Herzog cares about the making of the film. And because of that, he has made a film that is likely to compel those on both sides of the debate. I can speak from personal experience. *** 1/2
April 2, 2013
Herzog is probably the best living documentary filmmaker.
March 26, 2013
Such a great story, so horribly told, such a waste.
November 9, 2011
It's interesting enough but really just an average documentary.
March 5, 2013
I really didn't enjoy this, i found the questioning and very weak
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