Documentaries about killers do not seem to have the impact they once did. It is not that they do not affect audiences in the same way. It is more about their being so much to compare them to. There are so many documentaries, docu-series, series, and podcasts about true crime, it is almost pointless to watch any of them.
Into the Deep from Netflix stands out from the rest of them. Director Emma Sullivan accidentally falls into one of the most intriguing stories on the streaming channel. Sullivan was filming a documentary about Swedish inventor Peter Madsen. As she was making her film, Madsen becomes involved in a missing person investigation that puts all of Sullivan’s footage into a fascinating new light.
From a technical standpoint, Sullivan does an excellent job. Forgoing a linear retelling of events, the director decides to go back and forth between what had been shot previously and new footage following the disappearance of a journalist last seen on submarine built by Madsen. It is a fantastic choice, as it gives insight into all the people involved in the unfolding drama.
Into the Deep begins with those who had volunteered to work with Madsen (the inventor had built three submarines and was working on a rocket ship) anxious that Madsen and Kim Wall – the journalist – had gone missing. When Madsen is found, the volunteers are happy, even after it has been reported there is no trace of Wall on the sub. The audience can immediately tell there is a deep admiration for Madsen.
Sullivan does a magnificent job of telling the story. By going back in time, Into the Deep shows the giddiness and fun in working with Madsen. There is a palpable sense of excitement and Madsen’s braggadocious attitude only adds to the environment. While there is never a reason to believe Madsen’s plan of becoming the first amateur astronaut could realistically succeed, it is entertaining watching the team try.
This is juxtaposed by the events of the present. Those who once looked up to their eccentric boss are in a much more somber mood. Some look to justify what has happened while others reflect back. Even those who had issues with Madsen refuse to believe he did anything wrong.
As more clues (and body parts) are found, Madsen’s story about the rendezvous between the two changes. As it becomes harder to explain away what has been done, Madsen’s former workers become frustrated then angry before they feeling guilty about what has occurred. It is a fascinating character study that is made all the more intriguing since what the viewers are seeing real emotions.
Making the viewing experience more tense is how Sullivan has less time pass between the past and the present as Into the Deep progresses. The documentary oscillates between two finales creating a feeling of anxiety even for those who are familiar with the story. This leads to a chilling ending that is satisfactory from a filmmaking standpoint, but incredibly difficult to watch.
Into the Deep is a disturbing documentary. Director Emma Sullivan almost makes two movies. The first is about an unconventional genius who does things his own way while the other is a murder mystery with twists and turns. Together they form an excellent study about guilt, loyalty, and the human mind.