Review of Into the Abyss

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This 2011 documentary film profiles Michael Perry, a man on death row convicted of murdering Sandra Stotler, a fifty-year-old nurse. He was suspected, but never charged, in two other murders which occurred in Conroe, Texas, with his accomplice Jason Burkett.
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Movie Review: "Into the Abyss" --
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: January 20, 2012
Directed By: Werner Herzog
Genre: Documentary
Rating: 4 out of 5

"Into the Abyss", which had the subtitle of "A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life", is an American documentary. The movie was both directed and written by Werner Herzog. The movie is about a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas. Michael Perry and Jason Burkett were the two men accused of committing the murders. Perry was given the death penalty during sentencing and Perk was assigned two life sentences. Throughout the movie you will learn about the two men facing conviction, and the others who had been affected by these murders. Herzog narrates the film with is strong and impactful voice, but is never seen in person throughout the film.

Throughout the movie Perry is on death row for murdering a nurse in the community named Sandra Stotler. This wasn't his first time being convicted of murder, but he had also been convicted of two other murders in the area along with Burkett. Once Perry was accused of murder along with grand theft auto, and he blamed this incident on Burkett. Throughout the film both convicts will blame the crimes on the other person, each claiming to only be an accomplice. There are personal interviews with the convicts, family members of the victims, and people in the community. The local law officers, lawyers and community members were very cooperative throughout filming. There is also an interview given by Perry only 8 days before his death by execution.

Herzog had been considering creating a movie about prison life and inmates before this opportunity came along. The television channel Investigation Discovery financed this entire film, and the network gave Herzog almost full freedom creatively. At first Herzog was studying the cases of a few different inmates in different Florida and Texas prisons, but later he decided to concentrate solely on the case related to Michael Perry. This film doesn't attempt to convince someone of Perry's guilt or innocence, but it tells the story of the case. There were only 8 hours of film shot to create this documentary, but putting the final film together and editing was quite difficult for Herzog and editors. It was said to be very stressful and time consuming.

The first premiere for this film was at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. People considered this to be a very controversial film politically, but this was not Herzog's intent. He has stated that he is not in favor of the death penalty and that this film wasn't instead to arouse political debate. Capital punishment is in an issue that is involved in the film, but the movie was not created to debate the law or government. This movie was given high reviews at the festival in Toronto.

Before premiering, Sundance Selects purchased the North American theatrical rights to the film. The company was in a hurry to get the film into theaters. On November 11, 2011 the film was released only in select cities around the country. Herzog and others involved with the film were in a rush for it to hit theaters with the current political debates. Capital punishment was a hot topic at that time in the Republican Party, and this documentary provided great discussions for politicians, critics, citizens and for political debates. The movie was able to gain a lot of exposure because of the release date.

This movie is both shocking and moving. You are taken into the lives of the inmates throughout their prison life, the family members and wives of the convicts, the survivors of the murder victims, and you can see the struggles of the community. This film is very detailed and very real, and it's considered by many to be one of the best documentaries of capital punishment case ever created.

The reviews for this documentary were highly favorable from critics and viewers. At the British Film Institute London Film Festival it received the award of Best Documentary. It was also ranked 3rd on Roger Ebert's top 20 documentary list for 2011. After the films debut in theaters around the United States the movie aired on Investigation Discovery channel, since this was the network that made the film possible financially.

This documentary offers citizens a view into the judicial system and capital punishment from the eyes of all parties involved. This movie is rated PG-13 and suitable for many different audiences, including teenagers and young adults. This is a great documentary and worth seeing.