TIFF Review: ‘Into the Inferno’

TIFF 2016

4 mins read

Into the Inferno
(UK/Austria, 104 min.)
Dir. Werner Herzog
Programme: TIFF Docs (International Premiere)


There are few pleasures in life more splendid than taking a journey with the iconoclastic filmmaker Werner Herzog. Whether we visit cave paintings in France, go behind the stories of schlepping a boat over a mountain, discover the soul of the Internet or head to the Southern-most point on the globe, his unique and sardonic take on humanity and the world remains one of the most entertaining styles in non-fiction story telling.

With Into the Inferno Herzog does a rare bit of self-reflecting, going back over material that he’d previously explored. While shooting that Antarctic film, Encounters at the End of the World a decade back, he befriended noted volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer. The scientist turned his camera on Herzog, and the footage of the two of them conversing atop a volcanic caldera while magma boils away below is one of the more charming moments in this latest film.

Another echo is to an even earlier work, 1976’s La Soufrière about an impending eruption on the Island of Guadeloupe. Using these as stepping-stones, Inferno travels back even farther, journeying to Africa where the bones of some of our earliest ancestors are being discovered on the surface of a rift caused by volcanic activity.

As is often the case Herzog makes us look at the world differently, and with this film one can revel in the wonder, majesty and surrealism of these geophysical monstrosities. The strange sensation of staring into the centre of a volcano feels as if one is witnessing an exposed wound of the earth itself, and it’s not hard to see the violent eruptions and cascades of lava flow in anthropomorphic ways, the glowing blood flowing out in black and glowing red hues.

This collision between the frightening and fascinating is highlighted by another provocative location, visiting a volcanic lake that plays a central part in the North Korean consciousness. Here again Herzog manages to make the world of this secluded country feel both surreal and commonplace, finding as much wonder in a subway station free from advertising as he does in a tropical island filled with a churning mass of glowing rock.

At its heart, this is a film about friendship and fascination, reveling in the poetry of the pyroclastic (the rock fragments from a volcano). It’s one of his most astute films in many years, capturing the best of what makes Herzog a special filmmaker.

If a great documentary is meant to lead you into a journey both surprising and exhilarating, then Into the Inferno succeeds in spectacular ways. A masterwork filled with stunning visuals and captivating environs, Herzog’s latest is one of the must see cinematic docs of the year. See it on the biggest screen you can find.

Into the Inferno debuts on Netflix later this year.

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at ThatShelf.com and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, RogerEbert.com and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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