Cropsey is entirely successful as a documentary—but as an evocation of some of the most striking features of post-Blair Witch Project horror, it manages to settle into one's consciousness like X-Files Black Oil. That's not to say that its basic "documentary" premise isn't compelling: Staten Island filmmakers/residents explore an urban legend from their childhood involving accounts of child disappearances and the potential link to a local home for developmentally disabled children. The disappearances occurred, the hospital was a snakepit—Geraldo Rivera earned his place in TV journalism history by exposing it back in the early 1970s—and an appropriately creepy suspect was apprehended and convicted; and the film does a good job of exploring the uneasy intersection between the anxious desire to uncover mysteries and the flights of imagination needed to try.
However, what stays with me most are the ghostly, straight-to-tape visuals (Rivera's foremost, his cameraman's bright lights smearing across the darkened frame to catch glimpses of the hospital's miserable inmates cowering under lavatory sinks, huddled in corners) and the overall mood of a dream remembered—as both dream and memory wander, circle closer, then end in uncertainty. Again, while the film explores an idea—the limits of understanding—it does so by evoking the shaky-cam grainy aesthetic of "found-footage" horror films. I'm not sure if the filmmakers deliver an entirely ethical film, but it's invaluable as a confrontation with our desire to see horror at odds with our dread of feeling terror. The former entertains, in a sudden-drop-dizzy kind of way, but the latter—ah, that's Edmund Burke territory, the most sublime feeling, the one that tosses us back a few dozen millennia and lets us peer into the cave where we're not the only ones hiding in the corner: Something's in there with us. And it's Something that we may have made, but it lives on its own now, and little movies like Cropsey swing the light bar and give us a glimpse of what it might be.
It is with some hesitation that I provide a link to Geraldo Rivera's 1972 Eyewitness News piece: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbiYJkiX-Dg