Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio
Cinema Purgatorio/Breaking Glass Pictures (DVD)
30 Mins. of New Material; Exclusive Press Clips
Sometimes, the urban legend is real.
So goes the horror doc Cropsey, a haunting doc co-directed by Staten Island native Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio that intertwines a long-held area legend of a boogeyman named "Cropsey" with the real life tale of former Willowbrook State School employee convicted of killing 12-year-old Jennifer Schweiger, an area youth with Down Syndrome in 1987.
Currently on an indie tour of theatres nationwide including opening July 16th in Georgetown 14 Cinemas in Indianapolis, Cropsey is an intriguing if modestly flimsy exploration of the ways in which a community copes with tragedy and, in turn, the ways in which urban legends can find their way into the very psychic underbelly of a community.
Utilizing a blend of archival footage and interviews with individuals surrounding the case of Rand, Cropsey is most intriguing as a societal expose of the way a town responds once a "boogeyman" is suspected of being in their midst. In this case, the suspected boogeyman is a homeless ex-con who'd once worked at the area's school for "mentally challenged" children. As Zeman and Brancaccio investigate the case further, in what could best be described as amateur sleuthing, it becomes at least suggestible that Rand's conviction was as much about the area's psychological make-up as it was his guilt. There were multiple disappearances of children over a several year period, and while Rand was convicted only of Schweiger's death (hers was the only body that has been found) there are those to this day who believe Rand to be guilty.
Of course, Cropsey offers little to refute Rand's guilt even reducing his appearance in the film to a wild-eyed, drooling shot of Rand being escorted by police. Rand's conviction was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, though those involved with the trial would be quick to point out the circumstantial evidence was strong and no killings have occurred since Rand's incarceration.
Cropsey works best as a historical and psychological exploration of Rand's case and the way the community's history may or may not have impacted his conviction. Cropsey is most entertaining yet less convincing when exploring the urban legend, the eerie buildings and makeshift home that Rand created for himself after the closure of Willowbrook leads to his unemployment and rapid decline.
With its uniquely blended exploration of urban legend and tragic history, Cropsey is sure to appeal to those who believe that, indeed, sometimes urban legends are very, very real.
Cropsey remains in limited release throughout the U.S. and opens in Indianapolis and Portland, Oregon's Hollywood Theater on July 16th. After the 7:30 PM shows in Portland from Fri-Sun, co-director Joshua Zeman will be present and offering a Q&A session regarding this latest Cinema Purgatorio release.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic