Services like Netflix and YouTube have made the most recent films readily available to anyone. Can we find anything of value in the muck of b-movies, ambitious failures and exploitative crap-fests? We’re going to find out in Dispatches from Instant View Purgatory.
What’re we watching: “Cropsey,” a 2009 documentary from frequent indie producers Joshua Zeman and first timer Barbara Brancaccio.
What does it look like: Think about if Michael Moore decided to remake “Friday the 13th,” but he wasn’t allowed to mention Flint, Mich. a single time.
What’s going on: Zeman and Brancaccio explore an urban legend from their Staten Island childhood: the story of Cropsey, a boogeyman who kidnapped and murdered children. The story became frightfully real in the late ‘70s when children began disappearing. A homeless former mental institution employee, Andre Rand, is arrested and charged for five kidnappings and murders and the public is out for blood, but the filmmakers decide to find out if this was a witch hunt or a guilty man being punished for a horrifying crime.
Why haven’t we heard of this: It’s a horribly creepy indie documentary. That’s pretty much reason enough.
What works: “Cropsey” creeps up on you. Opening with a Geraldo Rivera report on the horrors committed at the Willowbrook Mental Institution, we see people being mistreated, forgotten and abused. The hunt for Rand gets even darker, once children start disappearing and the details of the investigation are enough to make anyone want to make sure the door is locked at night.
What doesn’t: There aren’t many answers found and the filmmakers sort of lose sight of their goal late in the film when they essentially give up on exploring the urban legend portion and begin an indictment on the way the public judged Rand guilty before the trial.
Skip to: Zeman and Brancaccio’s exploration of the abandoned Willowbrook is tense and frightening. Late in the film, the producer’s attempts to get in contact with Rand finally nets a phone message that will haunt anyone who hears it.
The Verdict: “Cropsey” is a dark, frightening look at insanity and public trials that doesn’t offer the easy answer. It leaves the viewers with a look at a man who could be guilty or may be the victim of public hatred. The fact that the film haunts viewers as much as it haunts the residents of Staten Island is a testament to the filmmaker’s skills.
What’s coming up next: Next week we look into “A Dirty Shame,” provocateur John Waters’ NC-17 rated sex satire that famously became the subject of a battle with the MPAA.