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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Crime > Murder > Legal > Justice > Into The Abyss (2011/IFC/MPI Blu-ray)

Into The Abyss (2011/IFC/MPI Blu-ray)


Picture: B+     Sound: B     Extras: C     Film: A



Werner Herzog’s dark rumination on the death penalty and the human cost of murder pulls no punches.  Into The Abyss is a documentary explores the case of a triple-homicide in Conroe, Texas.   More than ten years ago, 50-year-old Sandra Stotler was murdered in her home by then 18-year-old Michael Perry.  The reason?  He and his accomplice Jason Burkett wanted to steal the woman’s red Camaro for a joy ride.  Later that night, Ms. Stotler’s son James Adam Stotler and his friend Arnold Jeremy Richardson were also murdered.  Witness testimony and strong forensic evidence tied both men to those murders as well, but Mr. Burkett was the man the prosecution focused most strongly on for them, and he received a life sentence for the crimes.  Mr. Perry received a death sentence for the murder of Ms. Stotler, and was executed by lethal injection on 1 July 2010 in Huntsville, Texas. 


As one might expect, both men maintain their innocence.  Each blamed the other. While adamantly opposed to the death penalty itself, Mr. Herzog’s film does not focus on the details of the case, or whether either man might actually be innocent.  Rather, he uses the time he spent interviewing both men, and the families of the victims and others associated with the case, to count the cost of capital murder and the punishment meted out for those crimes. He explores the country landscapes of Conroe, Texas itself.  His painterly filmmaking style transforms the downtrodden town into another important figure in the film.  Was it the general malaise and lack of opportunity existing in Conroe that contributed to these senseless killings?


In spite of the horrible tide of banality unleashed by the scourge of reality television, great documentarians like Mr. Herzog still play an important role in bringing real stories like this to the audience’s attention.  Into The Abyss opens with an absolutely riveting and gut-wrenching interview with a death row chaplain. In his own unique and disarming manner, Mr. Herzog (who never appears on camera throughout the entire film) evokes an incredibly moving moment from this holy man who has witnessed hundreds of deaths.  That’s how Mr. Herzog works his magic.  He utilizes simple interview techniques like a well-placed followup question to reveal the humanity of his subjects.


The film might be Mr. Herzog’s most spartan and spare work to date.  With limited narration, he lets the real people he interviews tell the story.  Pop-up captions provide additional details where necessary, but this lean style does create a bit of information deprivation.  The details of the case unwind slowly, and some remain vague throughout.  The fact that each murderer blames the other for the crimes is not made clear until very late in the film.  This is an important detail in the case, and might have warranted a pop-up caption earlier on.


The 1080p 1.78 X 1 image is very consistent throughout and lossless DTS-MA 5.1 mix is as good as a documentary ios gpoing to get, so the combination holds together well.  Despite any weaknesses, Into The Abyss remains a powerful film.  Not Mr. Herzog’s best, but an artful documentary not to be missed those both pro and anti-capital punishment.



-   Scott Pyle


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