2010 / Directors. Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
There is a dense stretch of woodland in the middle of Staten Island known as The Green Belt and it shelters an abandoned mental asylum along with an old tuberculosis quarantine station. It was once the subject of investigation after tabloid journalist Geraldo Rivera exposed the cruel and inhumane treatment of its patients, and since it’s decommission it has laid empty, harbouring stories of ghosts and satanic rituals.
Film-makers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio grew up nearby and recall the urban legend known as “Cropsey”. It was a popular local folklore that told of a boogeyman-like presence within the asylum, which snatches children. With their camera in hand they set about exploring the myth and examining its ties to actual crimes within the area. And thus begins the examination of five missing children and the man who was accused of their murder, Andre Rand, a former employee of the asylum.
CROPSEY is a creepy and compelling documentary about crime, punishment and speculation. In many ways it echoes the grim realism of the PARADISE LOST films as it exposes the hysteria that comes with tragic cases of child murders. Zeman and Brancaccio rely on archival footage and first hand accounts from friends, family and law enforcement to sift through the details of the case and reveal the disturbing nature surrounding the arrest of the man accused. It casts an eye on the heightened emotions of the community at the time and the knee-jerk reactions many had. Without any physical evidence and no credible witnesses, Andre Rand was practically lynched and in typical Christian American fashion, stories of witchcraft and back magic began to dominate the case.
The film doesn't set out to exonerate Andre Rand, and it never argues the he is innocent. There is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to raise suspicions, however, the film highlights the fact that the proper course of justice was not adhered to. It holds a mirror up to the viewer and criticises mob mentality in the face of tragedy.
The strongest component of the film is the storytelling. Never forgetting that the fascination began with an urban legend, the film-makers exploit the eerie setting of the asylum with maximum effect. They venture into the darkness of the blackened passageways of the building and enter into mysterious rooms without knowledge of what lies ahead. Of course this is all a manipulative, and cheap, tactic to provoke the viewer but it works nonetheless. Giving the narrative a scary edge makes the story of the five missing children all the more unnerving and provides the film with multiple appeal factors.
CROPSEY is an engaging experiment in documentary film-making, combined with classic genre tropes, that places it somewhere between PARADISE LOST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.