I was watching a series on Hulu about missing people when the director of Cropsey popped up to talk about a different case taking place at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island. Intrigued because I kind of recall seeing something about Cropsey in the past, I made it my documentary to watch the following day.
This is already a somewhat older documentary that doesn’t have the same flair as many of the newer ones. Pleasantly surprised, it lived up to its billing and the strong review it got back in 2009 when it was released.
What was good about Cropsey
I love a short true crime documentary title. Give me Cropsey. Give me The Staircase. Two Shallow Graves. Let’s not give away the entire story after the colon. Keep it simple stupid.
Cropsey is more than a simple title. It’s the case of Andre Rand, a convicted felon, who may be one of the most monstrous murderers in New York City history. There is some doubt about his involvement and whether or not accomplices helped him in his heinous crimes throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Rand’s victims are children with some sort of mental disability. A known drifter who lived on the grounds of the Willowbrook State School, a housing facility for the mentally disabled, he is clearly a top suspect in all of the murders, kidnappings, and disappearances of the children. He was actually an employee there and as we learn late in this documentary, he feels like a victim of the harsh conditions at the facility as well.
Cropsey is so simply made it’s almost admirable they were able to pull off something so spooky that holds up today. There’s a sense of Beware the Slenderman at the beginning with the titular Cropsey being a legendary figure in Staten Island as the region’s boogeyman. We’re set up with this documentary as if it’s an episode of the podcast Lore. What we get, instead, is a very true and proven series of crimes.
True crime documentaries pre-dating the boom of streaming services can be really hit and miss. There came a point when sensationalizing stories was more of the norm rather than good filmmaking. Cropsey is good documentary filmmaking. Joshua Zeman and Barbara Branaccio are heavily featured yet they never make the story about them. This is about Jennifer Schweiger, Holly Ann Hughes, and other potential victims of Rand. We’re allowed to make our own judgment about his guilt or innocence. Rand makes it easy to come to one conclusion.
What could have made Cropsey better
Man, on the budget they had which was obviously pretty low, there isn’t much more they could’ve done better. This is a person-on-the-street type of documentary where Zeman and Branaccio do their best to interview as many people as possible. They even communicate with Rand and attempt to get an interview.
Cropsey could have been a docuseries as opposed to a single film. A larger connection to David Berkowitz and the satanic cult he was allegedly involved in could’ve had its very own episode. It seemed the satanic angle was only slightly touched on.
For what Cropsey is, there aren’t too many ways to improve it that I can reasonably think of.
Is Cropsey worth watching?
This one was much better than I thought it was going to be. It’s old but holds up. Parts of it will stick with me after because of how eerie the story is.
Overall Score: 9 out 10
Cropsey won’t blow any true crime fanatic out of the water. Its greatest strength is how the filmmakers get heavily involved with the case. They aren’t just reporting what happened decades earlier. They’re trying to figure out the real truth. This makes Cropsey compelling as we get to explore the underground tunnels of the Willowbrook State School and a potential crime scene that still looks fresh.
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