DVD Review - Into the Abyss

Convicted criminal Jason Aaron Burkett
in Werner Herzog's "Into the Abyss"
If you want to know how a person gets executed in the state of Texas by lethal injection, this movie will tell you. Filmmaker Werner Herzog lays out the process, almost step-by-step, in what he labels the "Protocol of Death." Herzog lays it out in almost a clinical fashion. Herzog isn't a proponent of capital punishment, but if he's using this movie as an argument against it, he has perhaps chosen the wrong case. He opens up the details on a terrible and brutal crime that strangely was just one of a series of falling dominoes for a supremely unlucky family. It also opens up some details on another family that's unlucky but in very different ways.

The story revolves around the murder of three people in October 2001 in Conroe, TX. Police found the body of Sandra Stotler, a mother and widow who was shot dead in her home and then dumped in Crater Lake after her corpse was wrapped in a bed sheet. Horribly, the same person who killed Sandra also killed her son, Adam Stotler, as well as Adam's friend, Jeremy Richardson. Both Adam and Jeremy were lured into the woods where they were shot dead too.

Herzog talks to Michael Perry, the 28-year-old on death row, convicted of that triple homicide. Unlike Paradise Lost, this movie isn't really about analyzing Perry's conviction. Even though he proclaims some innocence, his verdict at age 18 doesn't seem to have any questions surrounding it. The only question for Herzog is how this young man is handling the fact that a week following Herzog's visit he'll be executed. The answer from Perry is surprisingly well. Perry talks about being depressed, but during his interview with Herzog and with only eight days left alive, Perry had a smile on his face for a lot of it. Perry seems resigned to his fate with the help of his religion, and not much else is learned.

One person who doesn't seem resigned is Lisa Stotler, Sandra's daughter and Adam's sister. She along with Charles Richardson, the older brother of Jeremy, the third victim, put to shame any depression that Perry might have had. It's not just over these murders, but Lisa relates how so many others in her family have died tragically in a relatively short period of time. Charles adds that his family also had tragic losses. Charles went to prison for drug trafficking and his sister passed due to a car crash. Both Lisa and Charles are heartbroken, but again not much else is learned.

Herzog also interviews Jason Aaron Burkett who was given a life sentence for his involvement in the crimes. Whether or not he partook in the murders isn't made clear. He speaks more on the police chase that happened days after the murder. Either Perry or Burkett had stolen a red Chevy Camaro from the Stotler's home. That and having Adam's wallet, and the so-called bragging about the crime are what led police to the two. Burkett relays the details of the police chase and subsequent shootout.

As with Herzog's previous documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, there is a rather bizarre epilogue here. It involves Burkett's wife, a woman he met and married after going to prison. Herzog gets Melyssa Burkett to talk about her feeling for the inmate whom she wed. Herzog takes a page out of Errol Morris' Tabloid briefly, making it a weird note on which to end.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and disturbing images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.


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