‘The Scary of Sixty-First’ Review: Nothing Is out of Bounds in This Rude, Riotous, Post-Epstein Horror

Dasha Nekrasova's debut has knives out for Jeffrey Epstein, the royal family and any delicate viewer sensibilities, but is funny and angry enough to get away with it.

'The Scary of Sixty-First' Review: Button-Pushing
Courtesy of Stag Pictures

There can be a fine line between a good idea and a terrible one followed through with utter conviction, and it’s along said line that “The Scary of Sixty-First” dances with heedless, wicked abandon. A brash, gutsy, morbidly funny first feature from actor-filmmaker-podcaster Dasha Nekrasova, it runs on a premise that could have been written as a dare, or a prank: Two female friends move into a freakishly affordable apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that turns out to have been owned by the late pedophile mogul Jeffrey Epstein, and gradually find themselves consumed by its very bad vibes. Good taste, as you might well guess, is not on the agenda here. But underpinning the edgelord provocations and cheerfully cheap B-movie stylings of Nekrasova’s film is a dark, roiling rage that’s no joke: As a reflection on the abuse that powerful men mete out without due consequence, it’s without filter or apology.

Needless to say, commercial prospects for a microbudget horror comedy with pedophilia conspiracy on the brain are less than stratospheric. Yet “The Scary of Sixty-First” is sure to make waves on the festival circuit following its virtual premiere in Berlin’s Encounters sidebar, turning enough heads with its button-pushing, of-the-moment fury and no-sacred-cows satire to begin building a small cult of its own. For Nekrasova, hitherto best known as a co-host of the popular, similarly reckless podcast “Red Scare,” it’s a debut that, beyond its immediate topical heat, promises much for the future — backing up its big mouth with scrappy filmmaking verve and a genuine, devoted sense of genre. Giallo and grindhouse trappings mingle in a mumblecore framework, with overt nods to Kubrick and (aptly enough) Polanski thrown in the mix. Nekrasova’s own voice, however, cuts boldly through all that referential noise.

The clanging, doomy synths of Eli Keszler’s score make it clear from the outset that we’re at least partly in the grip of Dario Argento, though Hunter Zimny’s fuzzy Kodak lensing trades in muted millennial hues — while the New York we’re plunged into is pure Lena Dunham. Aspiring actor Addie (Betsey Brown) and her college friend Noelle (Madeline Quinn, also the film’s co-writer) are introduced in the midst of a stressful Manhattan apartment hunt that has hit unlikely paydirt: a roomy, furnished duplex on East 61st Street that they shouldn’t in a million years be able to afford. Sure, the decor is a little iffy (what’s up with those mirrors on the ceiling?), and the realtor gets oddly cagey when they ask about getting the place cleaned. But hey, a bargain is a bargain: The young women sign the lease, move right in and drink to their fabulous new high life.

The honeymoon period doesn’t even last a day, as the new space makes the roommates fractious and tetchy around each other, while a first night’s sleep brings restless nightmares. More delving around the apartment, meanwhile, uncovers human scratches on the walls and faded bloodstains on the mattress. A pushy, unnamed visitor (Nekrasova) claims to know what’s behind all this: Barging in under the pretense of working for the realtor, she informs a bewildered Noelle that she’s living in one of Epstein’s former party pads, where underage girls have been held, raped and possibly killed. Quite what the stranger is hoping to accomplish with her amateur investigation is unclear — she’s certain Epstein was murdered, but isn’t most of the internet? — but Noelle is swiftly caught up in it just the same. In no time at all, a torrid romance sparks between the two; quite how sex in that particular bed can be a turn-on is among the many questions here that are best left unanswered.

Addie, for her part, would be troubled by these developments if she weren’t going through some alarming changes herself: Seemingly overnight, she’s possessed by the spirit (or at least the imagined spirit) of one of Epstein’s teenage victims, manifested in sudden, manic bouts of juvenile sexual expression. Her gormless boyfriend (a hilariously deadpan Mark Rapaport) is startled enough when she experiences such a fit mid-intercourse, though he gets off lightly: The film’s most outrageous, out-to-offend scenes find her furiously masturbating in the symbolic presence of male power, be it in the ominous doorway of an Epstein property or before a chintzy shrine of royally branded Prince Andrew memorabilia. Some viewers may understandably check out at such points. Others will be rewarded with a grisly payoff that contextualizes such parodic sexploitation as the stuff of masculine fantasy, while an ambiguous final rug-pull neatly alludes to the gaslighting of many a victim in this realm.

As comedy goes, this sits in the stomach about as sweetly and comfortingly as a neat shot of turpentine. That we laugh at all is a testament to the delirious, almost poetically nasty verbiage of Nekrasova and Quinn’s loosely shaped screenplay — which, among other targets, puts Britain’s royal family so mercilessly in the firing line as to make the most recent series of “The Crown” look like a Buckingham Palace PR job.

Those aghast royalists who petitioned Netflix for a content warning won’t be prepared for Noelle’s impassioned denigration of Queen Elizabeth II as a “batty old [expletive]” who arranged Epstein’s death to protect her family image: Whether you giggle or gasp, such on-the-line gags are crucial to a work that forces its audience to wonder how much we collectively protect the elite by virtue of their sheer standing. A tiny film packing some big, irresponsible explosives, “The Scary of Sixty-First” will doubtless make some people very mad — though any anger thrown its way, it smirkingly suggests, would be best directed elsewhere.

‘The Scary of Sixty-First’ Review: Nothing Is out of Bounds in This Rude, Riotous, Post-Epstein Horror

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (online), London, March 1, 2021. Running time: 81 MIN.

  • Production: A Stag Pictures production in association with Spacemaker Prods. (World sales: UTA, Los Angeles.) Producers: Adam Mitchell, Mark Rapaport. Executive producers: Richard Tannenbaum, Alex Hughes, Lenny Vigden, Charmaine Kowalski, David Peretz.
  • Crew: Director: Dasha Nekrasova. Screenplay: Nekrasova, Madeline Quinn. Camera: Hunter Zimny. Editor: Sophie Corra. Music: Eli Keszler.
  • With: Betsey Brown, Madeline Quinn, Dasha Nekrasova, Mark Rapaport, Stephen Gurewitz, Jason Grisell.