Sundance Review: INTO THE DEEP’s Footage Of “The Submarine Case” Is Jaw-Dropping

A true crime documentary that started out as something very different.

On August 10th, 2017, Swedish journalist Kim Wall was murdered and dismembered aboard an amateur submarine by Danish entrepreneur Peter Madsen in a case that’s widely become known as “The Submarine Case”.

Months before Wall’s disappearance (her ultimate fate was unknown for weeks after her disappearance and many details remain only in Madsen’s mind), documentarian Emma Sullivan (Doctor Who) turned on her cameras and began documenting the work of the charismatic Madsen and his team of interns and volunteers who formed the RML (Rocket-Madsen’s Space Laboratory). The cameras kept rolling on and after that fateful day, capturing jaw-dropping real time footage of a tragic murder, the downfall of a public figure, and the fallout for those associated with Madsen.

Into The Deep has quite a few things going for it as a true crime documentary. Foremost, the case it chronicles is as bizarre and riveting as it is tragic. Secondly, you’ve got a situation where it is quite clear that Sullivan began filming with one kind of project in mind, and ended up with something fundamentally different. You’ve also got Madsen himself, an intoxicating and revolting subject, who was prone to wax eloquent for the cameras and for anyone who would listen.

Sullivan’s stroke of genius is in her assembly of Into The Deep. With the date of the disappearance as our mooring, the film jumps back and forth in time, chronicling at first the confusion, and then the dismay, of Madsen’s co-workers (who are really the eyes through which we observe this film)... and then taking us back to “before” when an Elon Musk-like figure is leading a bunch of idealistic engineers in a quest to launch an amateur rocket into space. The contrast is so disorienting. The nerves are so raw. The dreams feel pure and whimsical before, and naive and soul crushing after.

Into The Deep isn’t the definitive telling of The Submarine Case. For instance, journalist Kim Wall’s story really isn’t being told here. As with any true crime tale, one must always remember the victim/s, attempting to honor and respect them even as the salacious details of their tragic stories take on a life of their own. I think the lack of details about Wall’s life and career might be a shortcoming of Into The Deep. But on the other hand, perhaps the filmmaking team intentionally sought to tell the story through the footage they had rather than take a more expansive approach.

So Into The Deep ultimately becomes two things. First, you see the dreams of hard-working and idealistic devotees being fostered by an eccentric leader in a unique community, and then the absolute devastation Madsen’s actions wreak on those people. Next, you see Madsen himself, before and after. A maverick entrepreneur, then a sociopathic murderer. Sullivan masterfully edits her film, constantly ripping viewers back and forth from a time of devastation to a time of hope. It’s disorienting and allows us to understand how none of Madsen’s co-workers, nor even perhaps Kim Wall herself, raised any red flags or saw any of this coming. By leaping back and forth, you see his co-workers reframing earlier events, behaviors, and things Madsen had said and beginning to see some signs of dark times ahead. The raw emotion, vulnerability, and honesty of the RML crew actually takes up most of the runtime of the film. They’re universally supportive of Wall and her family and wrestling with the shame and guilt of being associated with (and duped by) a man who ultimately took a young woman’s life.

While I won’t spoil a thing, I will say that some footage of Madsen that Sullivan was able to capture is absolutely chilling in light of his ultimate murderous actions, and there’s a piece which evokes The Jinx’s infamous ending and had our audience absolutely gasping just as the end credits rolled.

Emma Sullivan has a major accomplishment under her belt with Into The Deep. In some ways, it’s likely a documentarian’s dream for a subject to morph into a headline-grabbing subject entirely out of their control. Certainly no one would ever have hoped a murder would take place. But it’s clear that Sullivan and her team were the right crew to give us a glimpse inside the mind of a mad genius and murderer and also bring us back from the brink to explore the fallout.