The Paradise Lost trilogy is the quintessential true crime series. On its own, the first film stands the test of time. We get a behind-the-scenes look at a murder trial, the families of the victims, and the three teenagers whose future will be determined by a jury.
No true crime documentary may ever knock Paradise Lost off the pedestal I hold it on. Into the Abyss makes a good attempt at it.
A film by Werner Herzog, who I actually knew best from doing a guest voice on The Simpsons, Into the Abyss is an agenda-driven film about capital punishment. We learn the story of a triple murder and the two young men sentenced for the crimes. It’s hard to not think they’re getting what they deserve. The senselessness of all three murders is heartbreaking. The two killed the mother of a friend for a car and then proceeded to murder her son and another friend to regain access to the gated community where the car was located.
It’s a crime both men claim innocence on, pointing the finger at the other and denying they were present at the time of all three killings. We don’t know what really happened, much like the Paradise Lost case, sometimes referred to as the West Memphis Three.
Into the Abyss did come out in 2011 yet it has a 1990s feel. There is something terribly sinister about the film. Going behind the scenes on death row and seeing how the gurney where many convicted felons are eventually trapped into is only feet away from the holding cell is haunting. It’s something we should expect from a film with this title. An abyss gives me imagery of being lost behind bars.
This is how I felt watching Paradise Lost, specifically the second of the trilogy. The first in that series offered some hope of being found innocent. In the second film, it seemed like all three would need to get used to life behind bars and maybe even accept the death penalty one day, in the case of Damien Echols.
I don’t think I’ve seen a Werner Herzog film before. I knew the name. He’s kind of like BTS. I know he’s well-acclaimed and popular. I just wasn’t quite sure what he had done or whether or not it was my taste.
Everything about Into the Abyss is tragic. If Herzog set out to make a film where everyone is a victim, he succeeded. Nobody in this world seemed to have a chance at any happiness. It’s grueling, painful, and sad from start to finish. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into when I put it on. It stirred up emotions I wasn’t even quite sure I had.
Intentional or not, Herzog doesn’t convince me enough to change my thoughts on the death penalty. His stance does seem to be firmly against it. As the sister and daughter of two of the victims explained, there was some sense of relief after watching the execution.
Into the Abyss is different from many other true crime documentaries. Even Paradise Lost, a comparable film, presents itself differently. That’s a who-dun-it. Into the Abyss is a whatta-we-do-bout-it.