Stacking up his non-fiction filmography of 25 feature-length documentaries, Werner Herzog’s most recent edition to the pile is an exploration of capital punishment in Texas.
Into the Abyss follows teenagers Michael James Perry and Jason Aaron Burkett who committed a triple murder in 2001. Whilst Perry was given the death penalty, Burkett was instead given a life prison sentence.
With footage that any viewer would find difficult – photographs of walls covered in blood and bloated dead bodies – and even more emotional interviews with the victims’ families, the inmates, and the workers on death row, this is not a documentary for the faint of heart.
Herzog’s deep, melancholy voice seems adept at narrating such bleak subjects, and the sense of mystery and elusiveness that emanates from his voice produces for the viewer neither a complete repulsion and shock of the convicted teenagers, nor a sympathy for them.
Our judgement on the controversial issue of capital punishment is something which Herzog intends to leave us to silently deliberate in much deeper and more clouded thoughts than before.
Into the Abyss, dir. Werner Herzog (2011, USA)