Herzog’s somber, mournful and moving documentary Into the Abyss – filled with empathy, moral conviction and humanism – reminded me of Capote’s devastating non-fiction masterpiece In Cold Blood, in that both provided powerful, holistic meditations on the cyclical nature of violence, the banality of crime, and the profound immorality of capital punishments. Herzog structured it along the veins of a book divided into interlinked chapters, with each focusing on specific sub-episodes and themes, which in turn provided multi-perspective view on the central crime, along with broader commentaries on its repercussions and ramifications. The case in question is a 2001 triple homicide wherein two young guys – Michael Perry, who’s on death row for the crime, and Jason Burkett, who narrowly escaped lethal injections and received life imprisonment instead thanks to a plea by his father who’s himself serving life – murdered middle-aged Sandra Stotler in order to steal a red Camarro, and also her son and his friend to get access to their affluent gated community for the said theft. Herzog conducted emotionally wrenching interviews with all the key people involved and impacted – the perpetrators, including with Perry just 8 days prior to his execution; those closest to him, viz. Perry’s brother, Burkett’s father, and his wife who he met and married while behind bars; and Sandra’s grief-stricken daughter who lost nearly everyone close over a very short period. And, while the cop who investigated the crime provided detailed account of what’d transpired, the interviewees also included – given the broader topic of state-sponsored murder – an anguished chaplain who listens to final confessions of condemned convicts, and a former captain who just couldn’t take it any more after facilitating in 125 executions.
Director: Werner Herzog