Into the Abyss

Into the Abyss

2011, PG-13, 106 min. Directed by Werner Herzog.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 18, 2011

I'm not entirely sure what to make of Herzog's documentary about a 1991 triple homicide in rural Texas and its resulting repercussions, up to and including the execution of 28-year-old Michael Perry, one of two men (teenagers at the time) convicted in the homicides. Certainly, this is an indictment of capital punishment as an effective deterrent to crime, but it's also just as much an indictment of small-town idiocy and the folly of misguided youth. Conroe, Texas, comes off looking like the 10th ring of hell – a place filled with random violence, Skoal tobacco chewers, and an overall sense of intellectual and spiritual depredation. But the same could be said of any part of small-town America these days, and big-city life isn't necessarily better or less random in its treacheries.

Herzog is after much more than the obvious chain of events, however, a tack that will have zero surprise for those already familiar with the insatiably curious director's modus operandi. Utilizing police crime-scene videos and interviews with the killers, the relatives of the slain, and even the death-house chaplain, Herzog indicts poor child-rearing skills, bad educational systems, and the basest instincts of human behavior all in one brutal go.

Herzog is an eloquent interviewer/documentarian. (I'd argue only Errol Morris is his equal.) Yet his technically flawless film leaves you reeling emotionally even as you wonder why, and why now, he's turned his lens on the American way of crime and punishment. Granted, Herzog elicits some (presumably) true tales of Conroe life that are as colorful as the people who report them, chief among them that chaplain, who recounts a surreal golf-course encounter with a pair of lively squirrels and somehow ends up comparing state execution with the potential flattening of rodents. Herzog, ever the eccentric filmmaker on a mission, may have met his match in this man of the cloth.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Werner Herzog
Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of 'Heart of Glass'
Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass
How to explain the genius of Werner Herzog?

Marc Savlov, May 4, 2012

The Big Seedy
The Big Seedy
Werner Herzog talks about his eccentric tour de farce, 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans'

Marc Savlov, Dec. 11, 2009

More Werner Herzog
What Would Werner Do?
What Would Werner Do?
New to home viewing: A feast of Herzog, ‘Zero Charisma’

Kimberley Jones, April 8, 2014

From the Vaults: Herzog's Ecstasy of Truth
From the Vaults: Herzog's Ecstasy of Truth
Werner Herzog on documentary filmmaking

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 1, 2013

More Werner Herzog Films
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
Werner Herzog goes down the internet rabbit hole

Kimberley Jones, Sept. 2, 2016

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
Werner Herzog focuses on Siberian fur trappers in his latest documentary.

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 1, 2013

More by Marc Savlov
Glass
M. Night Shyamalan's meta-comic trilogy crashes into Earth with a dull splat

Jan. 18, 2019

Second Act
Lean In meets The Secret of My Success in workplace rom-com

Jan. 4, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Into the Abyss, Werner Herzog

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle