Into the Inferno (4 stars)

Into the Inferno

credit: Peter Zeitlinger / Netflix

Mesmerising documentary from the great Werner Herzog that takes a tour of the world's volcanoes

With his deadpan delivery and unmistakable accent, filmmaker Werner Herzog has an uncanny ability to imbue his documentary subjects with interest and existential intrigue. Whether turning his camera on mother nature (Grizzly Man), ancient cave drawings (Cave of Forgotten Dreams), death row (Into the Abyss) or the internet (Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World), he brings colour and depth to every project.

And so it is with Into the Inferno, in which he reunites with charismatic Cambridge volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer (who he first met while filming Encounters at the End of the World in 2007), to explore the world's volcanoes and the people who live in their shadow. Concentrating on the sites where the molten lava is visible from the surface, Herzog and Oppenheimer explore the impact these forces of nature have on the landscape and its people.

We meet the Indonesian cult-like tribe who believe that spirits live in the magma, the community that have built a dove-shaped church to worship the volcano (which, in reality, looks like a giant chicken) and the North Korean scientists whose research is stymied by an oppressive and suspicious government. While Herzog – whose longstanding passion for volcanoes is palpable, and infectious – is never anything less than respectful to these individuals, an undeniable sense of whimsy runs through his hugely entertaining voiceover.

If the humans of the piece are a wonderful reminder of life's rich tapestry, it is the volcanoes themselves that remain the stunning stars of this show. As the frequent shots of the whirling, molten rock remind us, these fissures in the earth are both beautiful and terrifying; natural creations to be admired for their power and feared for their ability to reduce everything – 'scurrying roaches, retarded reptiles and vapid humans alike,' as Herzog intones – to ash in an instant. It makes for a mesmerising, humbling watch.

Available to stream on Netflix and at selected cinemas from Fri 28 Oct.

Into the Inferno

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • UK, Germany, Canada
  • 1h 44min
  • Directed by: Werner Herzog
  • Cast: Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer
  • UK release: 28 October 2016

The great Herzog reunites with charismatic Cambridge volcanologist Oppenheimer to explore the world's volcanoes and the people who live in their shadow. Herzog's passion for volcanoes is infectious and while his deadpan, hugely entertaining voiceover has a streak of whimsy in it, the film is a mesmerising, humbling watch.