Movie Review: Cropsey Comes to Town
Does the phrase “When legend becomes fact, print the legend,” (from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) apply to urban legends? Urban legends become part of the culture and their influence is more significant that most ready-made facts. The horror documentary, Cropsey, looks into what happens when an urban legend is given a face.
Cropsey looks at five mysterious child murders that took place on Staten Island in the late eighties. The murders gave fuel to the Cropsey urban legend, and what was once just a tale to get kids home before dark, became a manhunt and murder trial. Andre Rand, the man they pin the murders on, does himself no favors by drooling and generally looking creepy through out the trial. Filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio begin exploring their childhood urban legend but slowly transition into studying the environment that created both Rand and the legend of Cropsey.
Their exploration leads them into a terrifying Geraldo Reveria-esgue exposé of Willbrook Mental Institution. The dark, grainy footage of severely handicapped children is pure nightmare material. Being exposed to the footage is disturbing enough but the fact that Rand worked at the institution, adds fuel against his innocent plea.
The filmmakers never condemn Rand the way much of the inhabitants of Staten Island do, they simply present the facts and step back to examine the nature of urban legends. At times, they fall victim to believing tales of Satanism and certain Cropsey based myths but their willingness to get wrapped into the fear behind these tales brings the power of the urban legend front and center. It’s one thing to look at urban legends with the holier-than-thou approach, a skeptic to your dying breath, but looking at something from the outside isn’t exploration, it’s simply observation. The filmmakers saturate themselves in the investigation and explore every possible explanation of the murders. They get sucked up in urban legends the same way the audience does, but they know when it’s happening. Instead of denying it, they look at why it happened, giving the film an honest and personal feel some documentaries lack. They do a wonderful job of presenting facts and staying far away from anything that would resemble opinions forced on the audience.
The film has been compared to a more horrifying Capturing the Friedmans with good reason. Both films present facts and let the audience come to their own conclusion. Where Cropsey differs is that the filmmakers are willing to get pulled into the story. In a genre that seems as timid as PBS, Cropsey is more terrifying than any Michael Bay-produced-horror-re-boot. There are moments in the film that, if it were scripted television, would qualify as hack, but based in reality they now become terrifying. So… when urban legend becomes fact, print the fact.
Cropsey is playing at the Starz Film Center beginning tonight, June 25, 2010 and continuing through July 1st.
Related articles from the blogosphere:
- Movie Review | ‘Cropsey’: Joshua Zeman and Barbara Broncaccio Look at Kidnappings (movies.nytimes.com)
- 2010 Summer Movie Preview: June (blogcritics.org)
- Film: Review: Cropsey (avclub.com)
- Interview: Cropsey Directors Josh Zeman And Barbara Brancaccio (cinemablend.com)