It’s been labeled as a real life BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, which isn’t particularly accurate, but CROPSEY does induce chills, mainly because it is a documentary and not an actual horror film. There’s something comfortable watching a horror film, knowing that, even if it is labeled a found footage film, you know, in the back of your mind, that it’s not real. You don’t have that feeling with CROPSEY which is what makes it such a riveting and suspenseful film.
CROPSEY follows filmmakers Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman, two life-long residents of Staten Island who recall the urban legend of a child killer named Cropsey, told to children in order to get them to stay close to home and eat all of their vegetables. The film follows the two investigators as they interview Staten Island residents, dig through old newspapers and archives, and explore the thick wooded forests in the middle of the island which used to house a tuberculosis and mental hospital, now in ruins. CROPSEY gives a pretty powerful account of the events leading up to the abduction of a handful of Staten Island children who go missing in the very area they were warned was haunted by the evil Cropsey. The filmmakers explore the idea this may be a case of life imitating myth and builds a pretty solid case against a single homeless man who has been serving time for the abductions, Andre Rand.
The film is at its best when it sticks to fact. The story of Andre Rand and his connection with the missing children is both the stuff of nightmares and makes for such an interesting story. The multiple photos of the man wide-eyed and drooling are enough to implicate him of some kind of mental illness. The facts are presented in a fashion that makes one doubt it’s not a work of fiction, with so much stacked against the bizarre Rand, but just as many shady hypothesis making one doubt that he was working alone or even did it at all. If anything, the film provides too much of an objective view, making me ask more questions and feeling more than a little unfulfilled by the end. Then again, it’s just a fraction of the feeling the relatives and friends of the children probably feel in this as yet, unsolved case.
I know it was probably marketing who tagged the BLAIR WITCH stuff to this film, but to be honest, the nighttime investigation is in only a small portion of the film and is by far the least compelling part of the film. Sure trouncing through the ruins with a flashlight and a camera is scary (proven so in the aforementioned BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and countless GHOST HUNTER TV series), but this was the point of the film that showed the filmmakers hand the most as trying to add something dramatic with a payoff that amounts to nothing. I kind of wished they wouldn’t have even included that scene because it cheapens an otherwise engrossing documentary of the crossroads between frightening fiction and nightmarish fact. CROPSEY is a fantastic documentary about some horrific crimes, but is a bit guilty of manipulating the audience on the side of cinema not factual information in a few well commercialized moments.