Werner Herzog’s new documentary may get virtually zero points for conciseness or focus, but it does provide plenty of the legendary filmmaker’s usual philosophical insight, and maintains interest throughout in hugely unexpected ways.
Herzog and volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer visit volcanoes in Indonesia, Iceland, North Korea and Ethiopia, hoping to gain further insight into their connection to the human condition, often operating as faith-based monuments for religious and political indoctrination all over the globe.
Herzog’s film is at its core only so much about volcanoes; he’s clearly fascinated, as so many are, with the juxtaposition of entrancing beauty and virulent danger that they present, yet this really just serves as a leaping-off point to throw Herzog into some extremely bizarre and fascinating situations.
Most staggering are the director’s inexplicable visit to North Korea – though how someone of his lunatic reputation made it there in the first place remains a mystery – and his trip to the Republic of Vanuatu, where the locals worship a God, an American G.I. named John Frum, who they believe was created by the volcano and will one day return with a bounty of western capitalism.
Herzog’s intrigued, non-judgmental approach counts for a lot here, though it’s still his relationship with Oppenheimer that really proves most compelling. At points, it even feels like the volcanologist (who also teamed with Herzog on his Antarctica doc Encounters at the End of the World) steals the limelight from the larger-than-life filmmaker, taking control of the film with his down-to-Earth likeability.
Ultimately it’s a bit of a mess structurally and organisationally, and certainly doesn’t rank among Herzog’s better docs, but Into the Inferno nevertheless serves up his characteristically haunting imagery alongside the expected food-for-thought. For a director impressively cranking out three movies in 2016, that’s not to be sniffed at.
Into the Inferno is available now on Netflix