I've just finished watching this film, and it has moved me profoundly. Herzog is opposed to the death penalty, but ironically it's made me change my mind: I'm now in favour of it.
We see Michael Perry, the murderer sentenced to death answer questions as he meets Werner Herzog for the first time - we hear Werner's gentle Germanic tones as he says to him (amongst other things) that "When I talk to you, it does not necessarily mean that I have to like you" - he is setting the rules of the interchange that follows. I hate Perry and Jason Burkett for what they did.
We hear the account of the murders as told by law officers - their account of events accompanying police footage of the crime scene and the bodies as they were left: how two teenagers firstly killed a woman for her car, then her son and his friend. I know the world contains callous, stupid people - but their deeds offend me to the core. Discarded corpses left like litter without a second thought.
We then hear the accounts of witnesses and the victims' families, and of the perpetrators themselves; Werner Herzog is never directly seen during the film - sometimes we catch the merest glimpse of his reflection in the prison glass, but mostly we hear him - asking always the direct questions, the ones that take the quickest route to the truth he wants to discover. Never does he betray partiality, or emotion; always it is the truth that he is trying to catch. It is all the more powerful for this. It is beyond doubt that both teenagers are guilty, but one has life imprisonment rather than death to look forward to. Disgustingly, both Michael Perry and Jason Burkett lie about what happened - both try to maintain their innocence; this is almost too much to bear. Habitually amoral career criminals still trying to worm their way through life by continuing to lie, lie, lie.
The whole horror of their stupid pointless crimes gradually gets to you as the film progresses - just how many lives are changed irretrievably, and the devastation those moments caused. The relatives, the witnesses - everyone is interviewed, including an executioner who just couldn't do it any more after he had to kill a female prisoner for the first time (he quit, and lost his pension after having some sort of breakdown); there are many noble victims here.
I want to describe the film in more detail - the different people involved and the feelings they provoke, but I can't. I'm left pondering the 'Abyss' of the title - is it the death that awaits one of the killers, or is it the darkness that envelops those who are left behind?
This is a very powerful and provocative film - I recommend it, but the truth it contains is painful and ugly to behold.
The execution is not shown.