It is a delicate bit of balancing that comes with making a documentary film. You have to serve the truth, the story, and the audience and all of it at once. As exciting as the truth is it is exciting often because of its subtlety, because of its delicacy, two things that films often don’t have the luxury of having. There have been a lot of documentaries that place fast and loose with the facts, too many I would add, but it is rare when you get filmmakers that find ways to make the truth exciting. That use their skill in storytelling to let the truth speak without letting the movie rule the day. Such is the case with Cropsey, a wonderfully macabre film that dances very closely to being a horror film, too close for some perhaps.
Cropsey is the story of a legend. The filmmakers decide to look into the origins of a folktale and legend they heard as children growing up in New York. It was the story of a crazed killer that stalked Long Island and who would kidnap and kill children and hide their bodies so no one would ever find them. As the filmmakers begin digging into the legend though they start to uncover the horrible truth that lay hidden within that legend, the truth of a murderer who preyed on the innocent. What they found was that on Long Island there had been a series of institutions that catered to the physically and mentally disabled, a place that was to protect these people but which abused and neglected them. When the world found out about these crimes the institutions were closed but in their closing many of the people who had lived there were left behind. Left to find their own way in a world that they could scarcely survive in. This is when the story really begins. It was said that many of these people scattered across Long Island and hid in underground tunnels and in the woods surrounding the institution, surviving on scraps. One by one several children disappeared from the island, and for years no one knew what had happened. When a man who had once been a worker at one of the institutions is suspected of the murders we learn that this is one legend that may well be more horrifying as a truth.
What we follow after the legend then is the reality of a city in horror at the murders of several children and the cry for justice. The filmmakers begin following the trial of this man as another child’s murder is attributed to him. Things take an even wilder turn though when an attempt to contact the suspected killer leads them to become pen-pals of a sort as they search of the truth. What they find though is that murder or not, he is toying with them, and may be hiding more than they can imagine.
It is really rare to get a documentary that is as thrilling as a feature film but this is one of those rarities. This, like Paradise Lost offers no answers, just truth, but it is the path you take that makes the film so amazing. An outstanding film and one that thankfully focuses on the story and not the filmmakers. Highly recommended for not just fans of documentaries but for fans of horror as well.
8 out of 10