By Tyler Gibson
The Scary of Sixty-First is a hellacious directorial debut for actress Dasha Nekrasova, with the confrontationally abrasive politics that make her podcast “Red Scare” so culturally zeitgeisty. Nekrasova purges all of her deep-rooted interests and cinematic inspirations onto a throbbing genre film that doesn’t so much observe its subjects than submerge itself in them.
Nekrasova absolves her clumsy disinterest in plotting by instead using a basic outline to feed off the resulting atmosphere spring-boarded by the characters and their increasing paranoia. Betsey Brown and Madeline Quinn (who co-wrote the screenplay with Nekrasova) play Addie and Noelle, tenuous friends apartment hunting together in New York. A slimy realtor sways them on a modest yet suspicious building which unbeknownst to them belonged to Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier and convicted sex offender. Bad vibes are brought forth into their lives with the introduction of a young impressionable woman infatuated with Epstein’s “alleged” demise portrayed by Nekrasova herself in a deliciously droll performance. While character development is inconsistent and vague, what proceeds is a series of scattered but ultimately arousing jumbles intercutting between Noelle and The Girl’s fiendish investigation into the truth of Epstein’s death and Addie’s alarmingly grotesque sexual reawakening. This illustrates the simultaneous sexy thrill and dangerous consumption of projecting and losing yourself down rabbit holes and conspiracies. Fervent engagement in these conspiracies causes Epstein’s actual victims to be overlooked. Despite persuasive obsession being the film’s overall theme, The Scary of Sixty-First wisely avoids any crass, tastelessness towards said victims (although an underwritten backstory involving Addie’s abusive father is an inarticulate non-factor) and redirects its focus to the horrors of escalation.
It’s a genre film after all and Nekrasova is fully aware of the titillating premise she has concocted by frequently dabbling in an underscore of very bleak, queasy humor. The unsettlingly uncertain nature of Epstein’s death by suicide is probed with inside jokes about internet culture and malevolent jabs towards high society. Nekrasova’s disdain for figures associated with Epstein, such as the Clintons, is deeply felt with coarse effect. Grainy and hazy 16mm endeavored by cinematographer Hunter Zimny arrests the performers in swarming tracking shots and haunting closeups with vibrant stark colors further intensified by Eli Keszler’s hair-raising bang of a score. Comparisons to horror giants such as Argento and Zulawski are natural considering a shocking and frank setpiece consisting of Addie feverishly and maniacally masturbating outside Epstein’s penthouse recalls Adjani’s distorting work in Possession. Betsey Brown’s astonishing devotion cannot go unnoticed. Her bold performance achieves a level of demented engrossment rarely displayed on-screen, and in turn makes her an instant cult icon. The character’s loss of reality and looming innocence is caroused without vanity. How she managed to pull off the dubious and questionable scenes she’s required will never cease to amaze me. The final act is a bit of a whimper given the over-delivered insanity of what transpired before but nevertheless culminates in an eerie and fun fashion.
With decorative style and excitedly vile detours, The Scary of Sixty-First announces the arrival of an outrageous new cinematic voice and proves movies can still be startling and shocking in 2021.