At the same time, Into the Abyss pulls no punches in its portrayal of both Perry and Burkett. While both profess their innocence, Herzog quietly points out the holes in their respective stories and makes it clear that there is virtually no evidence to support their claims. These two were morons with a history of bad and violent behavior who finally escalated their actions. Perhaps their greatest mistake was being so stupid as to believe they could get away with their crimes when clearly neither one of them had the mental capacity to outsmart a brain damaged dog, let alone a team of police detectives. The film uses splices of the videos investigators shot at the crime scene and accentuates the footage with interviews with the detective in charge of the case and the family members of the victims. It is a dark light that is shed on Perry and Burkett and Herzog makes no attempt to turn them into the martyrs they would have you believe they are.
The only real issue I had with Into the Abyss is that it simultaneously tries to cover too much ground and doesn’t reach quite far enough. Herzog takes the time to highlight a fairly extensive interview with Burkett’s father, himself in prison, in an effort to illuminate Burkett’s difficult childhood but then doesn’t do anything with this information. It seems as if the film goes halfway toward building a bit of sympathy for at least Burkett, if not Perry, and then abandons the idea. There are also a handful of interviews that don’t seem to serve much of a purpose. At the same time, because of the nature of how Herzog shot the film, his “turn on the cameras and see what happens” style, there are times when Into the Abyss seems a bit purposeless. There’s no great statement made and again, while I appreciate that he didn’t take to the heavy-handed preaching tactic used too often in these documentaries, this leaves the film devoid of a lasting impression. It’s a good film and one that is certainly worth watching if for no other reason than the conversation it could lead to but it lacks the punch that I would have expected it to display.