Many communities have some physical place that focalizes its residents’ fears and anxieties, an untended wooded lot or an empty building that’s fallen into disrepair. In one Staten Island neighborhood, that place is an abandoned facility that once housed mentally ill patients, where a boogeyman called Cropsey is thought to reside.
For their new documentary, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, who grew up on Staten Island, use the folk tale about the madman who snatches kids as a framing device for a film that explores the case of Andre Rand, a man convicted decades apart of two child abductions and suspected of many more.
The filmmakers cut from vintage news footage about the abductions to contemporary interviews with some of the same detectives, newscasters and reporters, and family members involved in the cases, giving the film an unsettling immediacy. Once Zeman and Brancaccio begin corresponding with Rand directly, many of their own assumptions about the man are sent spinning, and the pair set off to do more amateur sleuthing.
They hit a default air of sinister unease a little too hard a little too early, however, leaving the movie with nowhere to go. Once Zeman and Brancaccio take a nighttime excursion into an abandoned institution illuminated only by flashlight — a moment overtly referencing “The Blair Witch Project” — they tip over from homespun inquisitors to manipulative showmen.
The story of the unsolved abductions and the man who might have become the scapegoat for a community is troubling enough. No big-screen trickery is required.
— Mark Olsen
“Cropsey.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At Laemmle’s Sunset Five, West Hollywood.
Scrambling through his own life like a human incarnation of Godard’s “Breathless,” the protagonist of the terrifyingly funny independent feature “Daddy Longlegs” makes his living as a movie theater projectionist in Manhattan. Played by Ronald Bronstein, Lenny is a moth as well as a flame, a havoc generator with unlimited, unfocused energy and a staggering lack of reliable parental instincts. Too bad: This divorced parent has two sons, with whom he spends a few weeks out of the year.
As “Daddy Longlegs” follows Lenny’s fraught, absurdly chaotic time with his boys, as well as his sometimes-girlfriend, the writing-directing brother team Josh and Benny Safdie give us a portrait of a man careening from one verge after another.
The film was initially titled “Go Get Some Rosemary,” and on the festival circuit, the Safdies’ semiautobiographical work proved too unsettling for some tastes. Not mine. Unsettling doesn’t begin to describe it, but then again it’s about an unsettled, manic character whose typical week of child care arrangements, impromptu vacations upstate and other foibles might turn to melodrama or to mush in the wrong hands.
Bronstein holds it all together. The actor, also a filmmaker, made a similarly shrewd and intimate indie called “Frownland"; here, as Lenny, he is fantastically effective and wholly believable as a sweet and sour soul.
— Michael Phillips
“Daddy Longlegs.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.
The 2007 Spanish-language horror hit "[REC]” shocked audiences with its savvy rejuvenation of the found-video genre (à la “The Blair Witch Project”). Now, returning directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza bring their finely tuned sense of what is freaky to "[REC] 2,” that rare zombie movie with actual scares.
"[REC],” which spawned an inferior American remake, “Quarantine,” in 2008, is told from the perspective of a television reporter and her cameraman who become trapped in a Barcelona apartment building where the residents are turning into flesh-eating monsters. The sequel picks up immediately where its predecessor left off, with a SWAT team escorting an expert into the building in the hopes of finding the source of the plague. Before long, the newbies are beset from all sides, and plenty of creepy violence ensues.
Balagueró and Plaza utilize the claustrophobic setting — the sealed-off building with multiple floors and many doors — to amplify the tension, though the hand-held or sometimes helmet-mounted cinematography might be a deal-breaker for some viewers.
But unlike so many sequels, "[REC] 2" builds nicely on the ideas introduced first time around; in particular, the nature and history of the disease, only touched on in the original, are explored much more fully here to chilling effect.
— Michael Ordoña
"[REC] 2.” MPAA rating: R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images and pervasive language; in Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At Laemmle’s Sunset Five, West Hollywood.