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When intrigue leads to perverse fascination; a good documentary about seldom sought out shit.

  • Jun 14, 2012
*** out of ****

"Cropsey" is a name that has been used - historically - to describe a kind of boogeyman. The documentary film of the same name is about the boogeyman of Staten Island, New York. The documentary tells of the area's secretive and tragic past; which is one full of child disappearances and possible kidnappings, as well as dead bodies of potential victims being found buried under soft ground. Cropsey was the name that the residents of Staten Island gave the unidentified perpetrator of the crimes, that is, before they found a legitimate suspect. His name was Andre Rand and whether you know the name or not does not matter, as the film does all the necessary homework for you. He was somewhat of a hermit, often seen riding a green bicycle with a basket in the front. He was not a respected man, and perhaps that is what led to such an easy conviction. Most people that live in Staten Island who know of his proposed "crimes" seem to side with the opinion that he did kidnap and kill these young children - who, if I may add, were all handicapped in some way, be it psychically or mentally. The ingenuity of the documentary is that it gives us no straight answers and encourages us to think for ourselves. It does not spoon-feed, nor does it act as a perverse form of smaller-scale propaganda. We can take the case of Andre Rand however we choose to.

The film is about many things. The power of urban legends, the impact that one man can have on an entire community, and the nature of deception itself. That last part relates to an aspect of the film which deals primarily with both sides to the story; Rand could have been innocent, or he could have been guilty. One thing is clear; he didn't plead shit. But people had a common take on his life and his actions; and a lot of the gossip can perhaps be traced back to a photograph in which he seems to be drooling as he is being taken away from court. This gives off the impression of a deeply disturbed and vile man, although after we dive deeper into the part of Rand that the filmmakers behind "Cropsey" actually took the time to try and get to know; we are provoked to question our reactions to the man and our personal views on the film. When telling the fascinating story of the seldom-heard-of case, the filmmakers could have taken an entirely different direction and made a fictional account of the events. However, by making a documentary, they merge fact with fiction - urban legend with reality - and the final result emerges all the more effective.

I do not think that the documentary is without its flaws, though. Being a crime-based documentary narrative, it can get drearily repetitive at times; but it often has the intellectual capacity to pick right back up again and be engaging as soon as we get the feeling that it is dragging in the slightest. You can sense that its makers - Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio - are very passionate about the subject through their consistent respect for it. Never does "Cropsey" feel exploitative or excessively staged; most of it feels very genuine and respectable, which also attributes to why it is entertaining and why it is good. It was a personal project made on what looks and feels like a shoe-string budget, but it turned out alright after all. It doesn't demonstrate much style other than the haunting shots of the abandoned mental hospital in the woods where this "Cropsey" apparently used to live (existent in the legends, of course). But it's got a brain and a darn good one too.

Zeman and Brancaccio had sent Andre Rand a letter while they were in the process of filming the doc. They waited a month for him to take the bait, but they got no response. Finally, they had decided to pay him a visit in person at Rikers Island. Coincidentally, the day they had planned to go, Rand replied to their letter. Soon, this became a normal thing; with the crew hoping to learn something different about the man with each letter. The results were not entirely conclusive. By the end, it seems as if Zeman and Brancaccio just gave up on the whole thing. But maybe that wasn't the case. Maybe they realized that there was no truth. And if there ever was one, only Rand knew it. But he refused to testify, or leak the information that was desired. At one moment, the duo attempts to dig into Rand's obscure childhood, but again; nothing terribly conclusive. No evidence, no nothing. Indeed, this is a very cold documentary; but it is narrated and presented with great optimism that seems to be keen on message-making. And the message seems to be that urban legends can come true, at any moment, at any time. We must acknowledge that the boogeyman could be a mortal being. And that urban legends are always intriguing, whether the truth behind them is ever properly exposed or not.

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Quick Tip by . May 16, 2011
As a full-fledged, feature-length documentary, it just felt kind of thin and stretched. It seems like an interesting premise, but I don't think the filmmakers put in the work needed to flesh out their idea of exploring the way real event + myths and rumors = the way we understand and cope with evil in the world.
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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