Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life
Werner Herzog documentary more than righteous polemic against capital punishment
In an interview to promote Into the Abyss, the German filmmaker Werner Herzog declares that, ‘it is absolutely clear that the crimes of the persons in my film are monstrous, but the perpetrators are not monsters’. Although Herzog himself is staunchly opposed to capital punishment, his new documentary is much more than a righteous polemic against the state executing its citizens.
Split into a prologue and six separate chapters, it focuses on a triple homicide case which took place in the Texan town of Conroe in 2001. A mother, Sandra Stotler, was shot dead in her home by two young men Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, who wanted to steal her red sports car. They then proceeded to kill her son Adam and his friend Jeremy to get the electronic key allowing access to their gated community.
The facts of this shocking case are not disputed: instead Herzog probes away at the consequences to the lives of the victims’ relatives and the perpetrators. At a Texas prison he interviews through bullet-proof glass both Perry, 8 days before his execution by lethal injection, and Burkett, who is serving a 40-year sentence. He speaks to Stotler’s daughter, who lost both her mother and her brother in the murders and he also talks to Burkett’s father (also serving a life sentence); a ‘Death Row groupie’ who married Burkett junior in jail and is now carrying his child via artificial insemination; and a former captain of the Death House team in Huntsville prison, who quit his job in protest at the death penalty after supervising 125 executions. Herzog himself remains off screen, but there’s no mistaking his idiosyncratic questioning, and Peter Zeitlinger’s digital camera picks out a host of revealing details, not least the impounded sports car – the trigger of the whole tragedy – in which a tree has now sprouted.
Selected release from Fri 30 Mar.