Into The Abyss, Blu-ray (2011/12)
Documentary by Werner Herzog
Studio: MPI/Sundance Selects IFC1883 [4/10/12]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Length: 107 minutes
Herzog is in his Errol Morris mode for this depressing but excellent documentary on the perpetrators and victims of a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas. He must have cleverly realized audiences probably wouldn’t flock to such a film however good it is, and his production expenses must have been minimal. We never see him here, as we did in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but it is his instantly identifiable and lower-level voice on the soundtrack asking the questions of the talking heads on the screen. The use of actual police-shot videos taken at the original crime scenes is shocking and adds greatly to the drama. Unlike many documentarians, Herzog is not trying to be neutral and objective: he states right away in speaking to the man in prison who is about to be executed by lethal injection in eight days, “I think human beings should not be executed.”
There is no mystery here about whether or not the two are in fact guilty; it’s an open and shut case. The two, when just 19, wanted a red Camaro that belonged to a 50-year-old lady living in a lavish home in a gated community. One of her sons was out driving it with a friend, so they killed her, dumped her body in a nearby lake, and then waited for the other two (who were acquaintances) to return in the Camaro, lured them into the woods and killed them. They were arrested after having the Camaro for 72 hours.
In addition to the two killers, screen time is given to several others connected to the homicide: the father of the one who is serving a life sentence—who is also serving his own life sentence, a sister of one of the boys, a former leader of the execution team in Texas who finally quit after the execution of a woman, the chaplain who is always present at the feet of the prisoner being executed, and others in the town. Towards the end we visit the wife of the life-termer, who married him in prison and is carrying his child via a sort of bootleg artificial insemination (since conjugal visits are not allowed in U.S. prisons). She seems spacey but offers the only semi-positive vibes in the whole film.
I found it interesting that none of the other reviews I’ve read of this film mention that both killers—especially the life-termer—claim that in effect they are innocent, and both he and his wife say he certainly never killed anybody. Herzog sets himself a difficult task to speak out against capital punishment based on these homicides. In a way, the still child-like Perry has the last word on the subject in his statement prior to his lethal injection: he forgives everyone for the atrocity they are about to commit. And it is that.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.