A few days ago I read an article called 10 Types of Documentaries We Can Live Without. Under the category of “THE SECRET CONSPIRACY BEHIND ______!” the article mentioned a 2009 film called Cropsey as being quite good, and described it thusly: “Some guys revisit an urban myth from their hometown, and then shit gets real.” I love me some urban myths, so this sounded like it was right up my alley. Today I watched it.
Right out the gate, let me say that there’s a little bit of a bait-and-switch here. There was, in fact, a local legend around the Staten Island area about a “boogey-man” named Cropsey who would get you. There was also a series of child abductions in the area in the 70s and 80s, and one of the children was found dead. The movie starts talking about the former and connects it to the latter, and in my opinion the connection is…well, not quite tenuous, but overstated. This isn’t so much a case of “here is the truth behind the legend” as “here is something that happened that is very much reminiscent of the legend”. So the description of an investigation into an urban legend that reveals “the truth” is not quite accurate.
What you do have is an investigation into the missing children, and it’s fascinating and disturbing. The filmmakers zero in on the man generally believed to be responsible, Andre Rand, but it’s never completely clear how guilty he is. Along the way we also visit the modern history of Staten Island as a dumping ground — for garbage, for sick people, for the mentally handicapped — and its “rehabilitation” into peaceful suburbs. The Willowbrook State School figures into the story, and the description and films of this institution are by far the most horrifying thing in the movie.
The film is interesting, even if it takes some oddball detours (such as a bit tying into “Satanic panic” hype from the 80s). It puts together a portrait of Rand and his possible motivations, but it’s all assembled by other people; we don’t hear much from Rand himself. While there are some things that can’t be simply tied up with a nice bow, to use “The truth is terrifying” as the tagline for this movie is doubly imprecise: not only is this not really the truth behind the Cropsey legend, but we never even find out the truth behind the disappearances.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a very interesting journey, but at the end of it, you’ve started with one mystery, added a second one, and not a lot of progress is made on either of them.