The eerie story of a hook-handed, ax-wielding, child-snatching janitor brings a real life story to the silver screen in the form of a newly release documentary. Cropsey journalizes the murders of five children between 1972 and 1987 – although only one body has been found. Through the eyes of two former Staten Island kids, who grew up there under the ominous threat of mysterious caretaker. The perpetrator was eventually arrested and convicted of murdering two children.
With leaps of journalistic license, directors Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancacco, dig into the life of Andre Rand, who was convicted for two of the five. The native New Yorkers spend a good amount of time sensationalizing the bogeyman fables from the nearby Willowbrook State School for the mentally disabled in their hometown.
Zeman and Brancacco do interview the detectives, journalists, as well as families and friends of the missing children, but the filmmakers extend their view toward the surreal with suggestions of folklore mystery. With suggestions of necrophilia, Satanism and suspected Mafia murders, the viewer may not get a clear indication whether the aim of the piece is tightly wound.
In an interview with FearNet.com, Zeman explains how the documentary came about.
“In a more personal way the film is a love letter to our community, to this part of our childhood. It’s kind of cliché, but when this one girl, Jennifer Schweiger went missing in 1987 is was the height of Satanic Panic, that movie Adam had just come out, about Jon Walsh’s kid, it was a huge change for small town America,” Zeman said. “This kid going missing, everyone in town was affected, suddenly we had to lock our doors, and we couldn’t walk from one town to the other. This event was definitely the death of the small town for us and future generations.”
The directors use disturbing footage “what Rand witnessed” as the caretaker of his stint at Willowbrook. Re-creations of filthy patients scampering around un-tethered and unkempt sprinkle scenes in an attempt to convince the audience of the unhealthy and deplorable conditions of the facility. Nobody knows the truth.
Cropsey peeks into the mind on how we all reason with a narrative that moves aimlessly but is cemented by the location and suspect. Despite its pitfalls, the film grabs the viewer right away and for whatever reason ghoulishly keeps its audience spellbound.
Historically, most facts of the documentary can be checked. The license used by the directors weighs into subconscious fears without regard to true journalistic parallels.