Film Review: Werner Herzog’s Dark Journey ‘Into the Abyss’
CHICAGO – Through both his fictional and documentary work, Werner Herzog has long been interested in the workings of the natural world and our place in it. His new film, “Into the Abyss,” may at first seem like a departure from those themes but it centers on a subject that defies the natural world and order – the taking of another life. Easily one of the best documentaries of the year, this riveting, haunting piece of work fits perfectly into Herzog’s resume as one of our most important living filmmakers.
Whereas most documentarians would take their strong stance on a controversial issue like the death penalty and use their skill to support and defend it, Werner Herzog does something truly daring with “Into the Abyss” by showing how it’s never quite that simple. Political bodies like to try and break down each side of the death penalty debate into pure black and white. We live in a two-party society that likes to simplify. You’re either for it or you’re against it and there’s little common ground.
|Read Brian Tallerico’s full review of “Into the Abyss” in our reviews section.|
“Into the Abyss” is a film made by someone staunchly against the death penalty that focuses more on the people impacted by a brutal murder spree than the man about to be sent to the chamber. Herzog makes his stance well-known up front through interview questions and statements, but he goes on to make a film sympathetic to everyone involved and dedicates it to the victims of murder. He doesn’t demonize the system. He doesn’t demonize the executioner. He doesn’t demonize those who would say someone doesn’t deserve to live. He relates to all of these people and then STILL says that the death penalty is wrong. It’s daring, riveting, and emotional filmmaking and perhaps the best non-fiction work on the impact of crime since “Paradise Lost.”
Conroe, Texas is a dark corner of the Earth. It is an unusual place with a wide gap of haves and have-nots and Herzog is clearly interested in the way environment has impact the latter. He shoots a number of shots of dilapidated buildings, broken-down mobile homes, birds on a landfill, etc. He’s not excusing the killers who came from this hopeless world but he does take the all-important time to fill in the dots of criminal fathers, lack of support structure, cycle of violence, and heavy drug use that often leads to these horrific situations.
Into the Abyss
Photo credit: IFC Films