The Scary of Sixty-First – Berlinale 2021 Review

by Jordan King

Debut writer-director Dasha Nekrasova, well-known for her left-leaning capitalist-critical podcast ‘Red Scare’, announces herself as a bold new voice in horror cinema with The Scary of Sixty-First. Certainly not a film to watch last thing before bed, Nekrasova’s film is a skin-crawling post-modern giallo imbued with the cruel edge of a video nasty. Shot through hazy 16mm stock, this slice of unholy viscera uses the Jeffrey Epstein conspiracies surrounding his death and crimes as a springboard for a dual tale of obsession and possession that escalates in depravity at a dizzying pace.

While out looking for apartments in New York – the city captured by DoP Hunter Zimny here in a manner that suffuses affluence and the occult deliciously to render it a character in its own right – college friends Noelle (Madeline Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown) happen upon what looks like the deal of a lifetime: a posh, affordable duplex on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Whilst their moving in marks a moment of celebration and a sense of liberation for our two leads however, soon after taking up residence, a more sinister picture of the apartment emerges. The foreboding tarot card they find in their new home, the decaying meat in the fridge, and a perversely placed ceiling mirror are tell-tale signs that something strange is afoot, but the icky feeling created by Nekrasova’s B-Movie visualisation of bad omens cranks up several notches when an unnamed stranger (Nekrasova) arrives on the scene

The Scary of Sixty-First' Review: Button-Pushing #MeToo Horror Comedy -  Variety

Claiming the property used to belong to the infamous millionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Nekrasova’s obsessive conspiracist character comes on like a hurricane, sweeping Noelle up in a swirling maelstrom of sex, strangulation experiments, and deep-dives into the rabbit hole of The Lolita Express and Epstein’s Black Book. There’s something to be said for Nekrasova’s linking of sexual desire and the human inclination towards stories that expose the monstrosity of man – Noelle and the newcomer in her life visibly get off on investigating the grotesquerie surrounding Epstein’s actions, and in turn Nekrasova’s screenplay points a finger at an almost fetishistic social trend towards discussing such depravity as if it were over-the-garden-wall gossip.

Whilst Noelle and her newfound object of lust create a private bubble of their own perversions, Addie – isolated and finding her milquetoast boyfriend (Mark Rapaport) – falls into her own bizarre state. Giving the film much of its blacker-than-black humour whilst simultaneously upsetting on a deep-rooted level, Addie appears to gradually be becoming possessed by the spirit of one of Epstein’s young victims. In an especially dark scene, Addie finds herself having sex with her boyfriend whilst telling him to imagine they’re on a Boeing 707 (Epstein’s infamous vehicle of choice), and as Betsey Brown’s voice gets higher in pitch and her manner increasingly child-like, she suddenly growls ‘Fuck me like I’m 13!’ This is just one of several moments where Nekrasova finds the absolute limits of taste and still pushes them to see what happens, with scenes involving masturbation over Prince Andrew pictures and the fellation of a doorknob possessing the same kind of ‘if I don’t laugh I might be sick’ energy. It is to Brown’s great credit that even in the film’s most extreme moments of hellish surrealism, Nekrasova’s clear loathing for the lack of recrimination for wealthy molesters and overflowing sympathy for their victims shines through in Brown’s deranged performance.

Drawing on influences as wide-ranging as Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (the film is dedicated ‘To Stan’), Abel Ferrara’s nasty opus The Driller Killer, the works of persona non grata Roman Polanski, and Giallo God Dario Argento (Eli Keszler’s satanic synths feel like a lost partner of Goblin’s Suspiria soundtrack), Nekrasova’s cineaste credentials are as doubtless as her own fierce directorial convictions. Whilst the film builds to a crescendo that is beyond balls-to-the-wall crazy and may lose some of its audience, The Scary of Sixty-First is a nightmare from which horror aficionados won’t want to wake.

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