Sunday, May 08, 2011

Cropsey and Searching for Answers: A Movie Review

*full disclosure: a screener of this film was provided by Breaking Glass Pictures.

Directors: Joshua Zeman, and Barbara Brancaccio.

Writer: Joshua Zeman.

A child killer is on the loose in Breaking Glass Picture's latest release, Cropsey. Two native Staten islanders return to their birth place, where tales of Cropsey, or the boogeyman haunted the local Willowbrook State School for the mentally challenged. A mythical figure, Cropsey soon became a real man, known as Andre Rand. Shot in documentary style, Cropsey paints a telling picture of devils living in our own backyards.

Several children would disappear from Staten Island between 1972 to 1987. Soon, the authorities needed a scapegoat and their attention would focus on ex-Willowbrook employee Andre Rand. Drooling and looking confused, Rand looks and acts the role of child killer throughout the film, but the evidence does not make his guilt so straight forward. However, Rand was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, while his rolling eyes and blank stare signal: this man is not fully there.

The only body found on Staten Island was that of Jennifer Schweiger, as the bodies of four other children remain missing. Known to frequent the woods around Willowbrook in makeshift shelters, all types of rumours circulated about Rand and his mysterious cohorts. He was believed to be a devil worshiper by some, a necrophiliac by others and a lurker of the dark tunnels underneath Willowbrook by still further locals. This is a man that you would not want to meet in a dark alley, under most circumstances. The grounds around Willowbrook, where Jennifer disappeared, look like something out of a horror movie set and Rand's unwillingness to face his accusers is very telling. Rand seems to be a man afraid of scrutiny.

Directors Joshua Zeman, and Barbara Brancaccio uncover many witnesses to Jennifer's disappearance and of another girl, named Holly Ann. These witnesses would tell tales of Rand stalking children in his Volkswagen Beetle. However, the '70s and the '80s did not have the luxury of DNA testing and there was no direct evidence to connect Rand with the disappearance of the five girls. So, the film poses the question: is Rand guilty or the subject of scapegoating? This reviewer would suggest that you see the film to decide for yourself. But the lack of further disappearances, after Rand's arrest, would hint that the streets of Staten Island where a lot safer with Rand behind bars.

Tense, interesting, and full of differing perspectives on Rand and the missing children, Cropsey is one of the best documentaries to come from the east coast in a long time. The film is also excellent at looking at those primal fears within parents of stalking killers in their midst. Cropsey manages to get both sides to a series of missing children cases, some of which still remain unsolved to this day.

Directing techniques/photography: 8 (every shot has a purpose and the late night romps through Willowbrook are some of the most interesting).
Narrative/story: 7.5 (this is a suitable case from which to build a story and there are enough questions here to keep viewers thinking of the film long after the titles roll).

Overall: 7.75 out of 10 (pick this one up, excellent film for fans of real life crime exposes, as the material is not glamourized).

*condolences from 28DLA's writers go out to the families of the missing children.

**this title releases on DVD May 10th, 2011.

Cropsey can be purchased at the Breaking Glass Pictures online shop:

The Breaking Glass Picture's Shop

Or from Amazon online:

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