It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Into the Abyss" may be the saddest film Werner Herzog has ever made. It regards a group of miserable lives, and in finding a few faint glimmers of hope only underlines the sadness.
The documentary centers on two young men in prison. Michael Perry is on Death Row in Huntsville, Texas, America's most productive assembly line for executions, and on the day Herzog spoke with him had eight days to live. Jason Burkett, his accomplice in the stupid murders of three people, is serving a 40-year sentence. They killed because they wanted to drive a friend's red Camaro.
Herzog opposes the death penalty, which America and Japan are the only developed nations still imposing. But the film isn't a polemic. Herzog became curious about the case, took a small crew to Huntsville and Conroe, Texas, where the murders took place, and spoke to the killers, members of their families and those of their victims. He obtains interviews of startling honesty and impact. I've learned that he met his subjects only once, on the day of the interviews, and the film presents their first conversations. I've long felt Herzog's personality is compelling and penetrating, and in evidence I could offer this film about Texans who are so different from the German director.
Herzog keeps a much lower profile than in many of his documentaries. He is not seen, and his off-camera voice quietly asks questions that are factual, understated and simply curious. His subjects talk willingly. He asks difficult follow-up questions. He is not very interested in the facts (there is no doubt about guilt here), but in looking into the eyes and souls of people who were directly involved.