Ari Berman in The Nation:
Werner Herzog’s new film, Into The Abyss, opens with a shot of the Reverend Fred Lopez, chaplain of the “death house,” in Huntsville, Texas, standing in front of a field of crosses in a cemetery. There are no names on the concrete crosses, just numbers, signifying those who have been executed by the state of Texas. Herzog interviews Lopez an hour before he’s set to preside over yet another execution. “Why does god allow capital punishment?” Herzog asks Lopez. “I don’t know the answer,” Lopez responds.
Into The Abyss tells the story of a triple homicide that occurred ten years ago in Conroe, Texas, when a plan by two teenagers—Michael James Perry and Jason Burkett—to steal a red Chevy Camaro went horribly awry. Perry and Burkett were both convicted, and Perry was executed eight days after Herzog interviewed him. Though Herzog never says whether they committed the crimes, the evidence presented strongly points to their guilt. Innocence and guilt, however, is a secondary issue for Herzog when considering the morality of capital punishment. “A State should not be allowed – under any circumstance – to execute anyone for any reason,” he says. “End of story.”
Yet Herzog’s film is not a polemic, nor what he disparagingly refers to as an “issue film.” It’s about the impact of violent crime—whether carried out by Perry and Burkett or the state—on the perpetrators, the victims’ families, the broader community and the criminal justice system.