The Scary of Sixty-First Is Probably Too Much For You, But That’s What Makes It Great

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The Scary of Sixty-First Is Probably Too Much For You, But That’s What Makes It Great

The Scary of Sixty-First isn’t for everyone. Hell, it’s not even for all horror fans. No, writer/director Dasha Nekrasova’s debut feature plays to an incredibly specific audience—one I didn’t exactly expect to be part of, at first. I’m pretty picky, I’ll admit, and while I’d been excited to see this one for some time, I’d seen a lot of divisive opinions about the film floating around and, upon the film’s first few moments, feared them to be true. The film’s weathered accusations that it ends up shallow, not to mention talk of a cluttered arrogance-meets-incompetence that doesn’t quite subvert the genre tropes it employs. I’m not surprised it’s polarizing, but I found a lot to love about the hyper-specific portrait of what lurks around New York City’s most unsuspecting corners—where the rich dwell—and it certainly ended up being for me.

The Scary of Sixty-First follows two roommates whose lives are upended after finding out that their new Manhattan apartment harbors a dark secret: It was once owned by Jeffrey Epstein. You know, the pedophile financier accused of sex trafficking minors for celebrities and politicians? The guy who died in his jail cell in 2019, leaving basically every question unanswered? Yeah, that’s where we’re going with this one. Noelle (co-writer Madeline Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown) move into a really nice Upper East Side pad, where shortly after, Noelle is informed by a mysterious girl (Nekrasova) who comes knocking on their door that Epstein did some “sinister” things in their space. Noelle gets taken down a rabbit hole of epic proportions in an effort to determine the truth about Epstein, while Addie seemingly falls victim to some kind of evil presence in the apartment.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sit through the full runtime: The introduction of the characters—a scene where they tour their new apartment with a shifty broker—gives the impression of mumblecore Girls with little personality, so I didn’t have much hope. That said, the movie quickly settles into itself (while keeping the initial tone it sets up) and lets you know loud and clear: “I am a satire! Keep this in the forefront of your brain over the next hour and a half!” And dear reader, when you do that? You might just fall in love with their weird, wacky, provocative horror entry. There is no doubt Nekrasova knows how she appears to most and uses that to her advantage; you simply cannot convince me the characters she and Quinn created for this piece are not direct descendants of the version of Nekrasova known for her biting and blistering cultural commentary podcast, Red Scare—on which Epstein’s death has been a topic of conversation.

To that end, that petulant, self-absorbed and opinionated archetype (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the film’s case) these characters represent creates some of the movie’s best lines and moments, using them both as comedic relief and a way to give us further insight on just how obnoxious these girls can be.

“I’m not like normal people, I’m obsessed with political struggle,” Nekrasova’s mystery woman tells Noelle as they pore over websites and documents. “She’s always been, like, into the U.K.,” Noelle quips about Addie when she and Nekrasova discover her roommate’s apartment-driven obsession. I’m sorry, but there is nothing more satirical (and thus, brilliant) than Nekrasova’s character shedding one special, fat tear when she and Quinn’s character happen to see the face of a woman whom they think is Ghislaine Maxwell. Their conspiratorial nature, the way they so freely jump down the rabbit hole and spiral away with shreds of an assumed truth, is the butt of the joke here—and I can’t lie, I truly laughed out loud, in an affectionate way that really meant, “Damn, you guys are going there.”

These archetypes play well in this giallo-style, Dario Argento, Eyes Wide Shut and Rosemary’s Baby-adjacent world Nekrasova helms. It feels like an updated version of the latter, so much so that I was half-expecting to see a woman show up with a pixie cut at some point. Where sometimes too much homage can sink the ship, The Scary of Sixty-First is well-served by sticking close to its influences and using their tropes in updated and specific ways—specifically in how it’s shot, which harkens back to Polanski’s most famous film, Argento’s entire oeuvre and other giallo classics. There are similar shots; framing devices that have been used time and time again. If you’re well-versed in the style, you’ll catch them, but their use also proves why the just-shy-of-insufferable mumblecore satire thing works so well. Had the film slotted itself into the classic template too well, it would’ve disappeared. But with Nekrasova’s signature snark and monotone sarcasm, it peppers familiar style with something updated and interesting, even if it’s not your cup of tea.

The movie grows utterly outlandish once it really gets going, and that part of the picture was definitely my cup of tea. This is a polarizing film with a controversial yet bold tone and sense of humor, so it’s no surprise that, for example, it juxtaposes a fraught attempt at debunking a suicide by hanging with a wacky and wild public indecency scene. There are a lot of moments like these in the film: Scenes and images that push the envelope and probably will shock you a bit, if only because they’re going for the thing you think maybe they won’t have the balls to do. The audacious plotting and setpieces proudly approach the usual limits and shove them into oncoming traffic. I want to see movies that go beyond what we tend to expect and ravage convention. Between the innately salacious story and the opportunities well-taken to rattle the cages with its biting performances and fever dream plot, The Scary of Sixty-First does just that. Brown in particular should be proud of her all-out acting: Her commitment is an asset here and forms the cornerstone from which the film’s successful horror elements—all birthed out of this desire to push the envelope—build.

The Scary of Sixty-First’s striking self-assuredness ended up working nearly too well for me after opening up the movie’s world in such an overwhelmingly underwhelming way, and the feature has its “shallow horror” and messy “arrogance” to thank for that. It never apologizes for what it is or what it wants to try and do, and that—along with the twists and turns of how the plot unfolds, as wild and nasty and unorthodox as it (and the performances that anchor it) can be—is worth the price of admission. Some of us wish we could be this daring and, whether or not it worked for you, that is something to applaud.

Director: Dasha Nekrasova
Writers: Dasha Nekrasova, Madeline Quinn
Stars: Dasha Nekrasova, Madeline Quinn, Betsey Brown
Release Date: December 17, 2021

Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.

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