Written & Directed by Joshua Zeman & Barbara Branciccio
Cropsey is an interesting film. The filmmakers behind it are two people who grew up on Staten Island hearing stories of Cropsey, a fictional bogey man who was made up in order to keep kids out of such places as the former mental institution Willowbrook and the remains of the hospital. The two did not know each other as children, yet heard the same stories. So as adults they decided to look into it and see if it really was fiction, or in fact was based on truth. What they found was that the underground of Staten Island was much more bleak and twisted than they would have imagined.
The Island was used as a dumping ground for unwanted things. First it was home to New York City’s trash dump, then Willowbrook was established where the city’s unwanted people were left to rot, a sensation chronicled by a young Geraldo Rivera in a startling piece on the horrid conditions at Willowbrook. But the two also discovered that it was a place where children often disappeared. With the likes of Jennifer and Molly Ann, there seemed to be a pattern, so when they discovered that the authorities had pinned it on one man, Andre Rand, they investigated further for the whole story. This is that story.
It is certainly interesting and thrilling, but what I found was that I didn’t believe about 95% of the people they talked to. The disappearances and investigations were all too mysterious and based on too many eyewitness accounts that were swayed by personal bias, public opinion and the need to have a scapegoat and closure. I am not sure Zeman and Brancoccio’s work with this film really added anything to the story other than making a film about it. Their investigating and interviewing seemed amateur to me, only scratching the surface of the story. They seemed to let the people talk about what they wanted to talk about and never seemed to ask the tough questions, or even question what the witnesses and people involved believed. It is obvious why the people thought the way they did, but how about play devil’s advocate once in a while?
The film had some thrilling sequences, even if they were manufactured for entertainment purposes. It presented an intriguing story, albeit with little real investigation of commentary. It allowed me as the viewer to form my own opinion, as they did present friends of Rand and those skeptical of his conviction and guilt in the whole matter. Overall, it was interesting and entertaining. I was not moved to act, or to care a whole lot about these people. Losing a child is tough and maybe the worst thing. It can make you reach conclusions through emotion and not logic, find a scapegoat for closure instead of the real perpetrator. I don’t know if Andre Rand is guilty or not. It seemed like there was convincing evidence to say he wasn’t, yet the courts said Rand was guilty. If anything, the film served as a interesting way to spend my Sunday morning.