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The Cinematic Katzenjammer: April 20: Into the Abyss


April 20: Into the Abyss

"Conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime serve as an examination of why people - and the state - kill."

   Werner Herzog is one hell of a filmmaker. He could make 90 minutes of watching grass grow a beautiful, meaningful experience, venturing into the very depths of our souls and minds. With Grizzly Man, Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, he explores mortality, nature, and our very existence. With Into the Abyss, he revisits those themes as well as delving into the ethics of right and wrong, and if taking one life for another can be justified. The way Herzog presents his points, in all his films, is mesmerizing and almost creepy. He pries into the lives of all his "subjects" to an extent you might find inappropriate, but he pulls it off like an ancient German wizard. 

If you stare into his eyes long enough, you can see the meaning of life. 

      Into the Abyss tells the story of Michael Perry, a man convicted of killing a fifty year old woman just to steal a car. He was also believed to be involved in the murders of two others, who his accomplice, Jason Burkett, was found guilty for. Each man maintains his innocence and blames the other for the deaths. Perry received a death sentence while Burkett received a lesser life sentence. The film goes into the crimes in great detail, incorporating interviews with Perry, Burkett, and all those affected by the murders. The conversations with Perry are eight days before he's set to be put to death. He's a terrifying man, not because of how he looks or sounds, but because he's nonchalant about the whole ordeal, even smiling and cracking jokes. He has a darkness about him that lingers throughout the entirety of the film and makes it all the more eerie. 

This is a man that brutally murdered a woman in her own home. 

    Michael Perry alone does not make the film what it is. Herzog interviews family members of the victims and each conversation is heart-wrenching. None of those murdered were bad people and discussing their lives with family members paints Perry as a greater villain. One of the most memorable interviews is with Fred Allen, a former prison worker who was actually in charge of putting criminals to death. His explanations of what happened are disturbing, as you never really think about those behind the scenes when it comes to execution in the judicial system. After over 120 executions, the job haunted him and he actually quit, giving up his pension. With all the interviews, Herzog carefully brings up the morality of the death penalty, never stating if it is wrong or right but simply starting the discussion. 

   Into the Abyss is a haunting film. Clearly a Herzog film, it's both beautiful and terrifying. It presents many ideas to think upon that will stick with you for awhile. It's both a presentation of evil and its effects on people, as well as a behind the scenes look at what happens from the crime scene to the execution and the aftermath of it all. I would recommend the film but know it is not for everyone. Herzog films are an acquired taste and even his best can come across as a little bizarre. 

The Good:
a beautiful tale told with reverence and curiosity by an unflinching director
The Bad:
the whole thing is depressing as there is no happy ending to murder
The Ugly:
seeing evil in someone you would not expect to see it in, and realizing anyone could be susceptible to darkness

Overall: 8.2/10


Official Website Here

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