The Scary of Sixty-First

'Succession' cast member turned first-time feature filmmaker Dasha Nekrasova takes this conspiracy-fuelled horror movie on a wild ride.
Sarah Ward
Published on December 16, 2021


When Succession roves over New York's skyline — in its opening credits, as set to that bewitching theme tune, or just during its episodes — it gleams with wealth and privilege. Depiction doesn't equal endorsement, however, with the stellar HBO satire sharply cutting into its chosen world at every chance it gets. As one of the show's supporting cast members, Dasha Nekrasova slides into that realm, too, but that's not her only dalliance with the city's architecture, power brokers and all that both represent. The Scary of Sixty-First, the Red Scare podcast host's feature directorial debut, also savages the rich and seemingly consequence-free. It clasps onto a real-life story that's made that case inherently, abhorrently and monstrously. There's no gentle way to put it, but the fact that Nekrasova plays a woman investigating if a bargain Upper East Side duplex was one of Jeffrey Epstein's "orgy flophouses" says much about this purposefully provocative conspiracy thriller horror-comedy.

College pals Addie (Betsey Brown, Assholes) and Noelle (the film's co-screenwriter Madeline Quinn) can't believe their luck when they find the cheap property, even if it does visibly need a clean — and have mirrored ceilings, as well as some questionable lock choices — and even if they don't appear completely comfortable with committing to live together. But from night one, the literal nightmares begin. Soon they're spying blood stains, scratched walls and eerie tarot cards, and feeling unsettled in a variety of ways. Enter Nekrasova's stranger, who comes sporting a dark-web rabbit hole's worth of paranoia and bearing the Epstein news. Addie and Noelle take the revelation in vastly different fashions, with the former seeming possessed by one of Epstein's child victims, and the latter diving deep into potential theories with her unnamed new friend.

Letting a headline-monopolising sex offender loom large over the plot is an instant attention-grabber — and, while The Scary of Sixty-First doesn't lunge straight down that path, it feels like Nekrasova and Quinn's starting point. Their movie smacks of conjuring up a controversial premise, then fitting parts around it; thankfully, they have more than one target in their sights, plenty to ponder, and Nekrasova's bold vision bringing it all together. From the outset, there's much to mine about the hellishness of finding somewhere to live in your twenties, and in NY especially. The things you'll settle for in that situation clearly also earns the feature's focus. The same rings true of post-college life and its intrinsic awkwardness in general — and being expected to act like a fully functioning adult, and make pivotal decisions, without yet amassing the experiences to match. 

By contemplating the hostile real-estate market and the ordeal that is trying to find your place in the world (emotionally, intellectually and physically), The Scary of Sixty-First immediately unpacks power, money and privilege. If Addie and Noelle could afford somewhere else or had other support at their disposal, there wouldn't even be a story. When Nekrasova appears and drops Epstein's name, that excavation digs down several levels. Again, there's no shortage of ideas, directions or tangents to explore, and the script explodes as many as possible. This is a movie about a dead billionaire paedophile, the wealth of theories that've sprung up around him and the 24-hour news cycle that's made his tale inescapable. It's also about how doomscrolling has become routine, the grim routes incessant web searches can take you down, the normalisation of true-crime obsession, the proliferation of conspiracy-driven rhetoric and relentless chaos as the natural state of the world.

Addie has an interminably unpleasant boyfriend, Greg (Mark Rapaport, Pledge), who also sparks an array of questions — because even when he's turned off by her descent into inappropriate baby talk during sex, he still sees his own needs as more important than anything else. Indeed, while The Scary of Sixty-First is messy by choice, and also lets its 16-millimetre frames frequently look the part, nothing here is accidental. That's true of outdoor masturbation scenes and out-there theories alike, all of which make a statement. Usually, the movie isn't coy; as the possessed Addie gets more forceful with every action, her sloppy kissing of Prince Andrew's photo couldn't be more overt. Repeatedly, though, the film sends multiple messages at once; when her glistening fingers, fresh from a stint of self-pleasure, caress Epstein's initials outside his apartment building, The Scary of Sixty-First also comments on how taboo such feverish displays of female sexuality still prove on-screen.

It's still easy to see the influences coursing through Nekrasova and Quinn's screenplay, and in Nekrasova's directorial choices. If the movie itself was haunted, it'd be by 70s and 80s horror flicks and thrillers, Italian giallo cinema, every picture that's probed New York's underbelly and, quite pointedly, by Eyes Wide Shut and Rosemary's Baby as well. Making his feature debut, too, cinematographer Hunter Zimny synthesises that hefty list of touchstones into a visual style that takes little bits from everywhere, but also fittingly makes it all feel like a dreamy swirl, jittery onslaught and tormented experience. Aesthetically, The Scary of Sixty-First just keeps spiralling from the uncertain and the otherworldly to the uncontrollable, mimicking another of the script's strong observations about 21st-century life.

Careening wildly is one of The Scary of Sixty-First's key traits, intentionally so, as also seen in its central performances — Brown, Quinn, Nekrasova and Rapaport all turn in committed portrayals — and its sense of humour. There's no shaking the pitch-black comedy of it all, again by design, but even the film's most absurd moments and farcical touches are steeped in reality in one way or another. Its most nightmarish inclusions are as well, and that's part of the feature's knowing, winking seesaw ride. Yes, a global paedophile ring among the elite sounds like the sickest kind of fiction and an unhinged conspiracy. Yes, there's elements of truth to such horrendous sex-trafficking. The Scary of Sixty-First doesn't always completely come together, but Nekrasova has crafted an uncompromising and compelling movie that acknowledges both, plays like a slap in the face and isn't easily forgotten.


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