Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
This DIY documentary about a rash of child disappearances in ’80s Staten Island and the man widely believed to be responsible for it is an interesting blend of investigative reporting, urban exploration, and pop-inflected creep-out. Filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio avoid linearity. Instead they draw big loops around their subject, in the process turning “Cropsey” into a crypto-history of Staten Island and its local mythology. Throughout it all Zeman and Brancaccio manage to maintain an atmosphere of foreboding that wouldn’t be out of place in an ’80s slasher film. That’s appropriate: one of the movie’s themes concerns the way in which the horrors of our fictions — of our told and retold stories — inform our collective sense of reality. As “Cropsey” shows, there are still people in Staten Island who believe that satanists stalk the woods, occasionally stealing infants and sacrificing them at the site of the Willowbrook mental institution, the house of real and imagined horrors that occupies the movie’s nexus. For the people at the center of this mystery as well as those on its outskirts, the true-life legacy of Willowbrook has become mythical; it’s been subsumed by their imaginations. There it exists comfortably beside once-heard campfire stories and adolescent memories of Freddy Krueger. “Cropsey” might disappoint some viewers precisely because it doesn’t — and can’t — bring movie-style resolution to its narrative elements. Others might consider that a virtue: the unresolvedness of the film leaves you with a hard-to-shake feeling of unease. It rehabilitates your inner boogiemen.
“Cropsey” is available on Netflix Instant.
- The movie’s trailer.
- Paleo Retiree on a doc dealing with satanism hysteria.
- Part of Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 exposé on Willowbrook State School. (Not for the faint of heart.)
- Some background on Willowbrook.