Thursday, 22 March 2012

Into The Abyss, dir/wr. Werner Herzog, st. Werner Herzog, Michael Perry, Jason Burkett

Werner Herzog's grim and sombre documentary cooly and objectively studies the US' death penalty using real-life convicts Michael Perry and Jason Burkett as his case studies. Herzog intersperses genuinely unsettling police crime-scene archive footage with interviews with the incarcerated and those family members affected by the crimes themselves. The senselessness of the murders and our ability to comprehend the actions of the perpetrators is further compounded by the honest and erudite musings of the criminals, and though parental dysfunction and compass-light childhoods are alluded to, no direct reasoning is ever given as to why they did what they did. Herzog remains off-camera, gently and respectfully cueing the prisoners to share their story and the action is broken up by other interviews with a death-row pastor and warden who convey how their involvement with the system has left them spiritually and emotionally bereft. A large bulk of the power of this extraordinary documentary lies in the lack of sermonising, yet even so, Herzog more than once feels compelled to drop his personal views into the conversation. Into The Abyss then isn't exactly life-affirming stuff, but rather a bleak peer into the infinite gloom of life wasted.