Dasha Nekrasova’s debut film The Scary of Sixty-First isn’t afraid of controversy in its no-holds-barred examination of the lingering after effects of Jeffrey Epstein’s death, conspiracy theories and demonic possession, all packed into an 81 minute run time and a soft-glam aesthetic.
When college friends Noelle (Madeline Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown) find an apartment in their price range in the middle of Manhattan, furnished with a piano and various items that belonged to a previous owner, it seems too good to be true. As they are shown around the apartment, questions about the separate entrances, attached bedrooms and multiple locks are played off as design quirks by a slightly sinister estate agent — mirrors above the bed are one thing, but when Addie finds scratch marks hidden in her bedroom it is even clearer that the history of their new apartment is more sinister than either of them could have anticipated. When a mysterious young woman (Dasha Nekrasova) appears at their front door and tells Noelle that they are currently living in one of the former “sex flop-houses” of Jeffrey Epstein, everything quickly goes south.
Addie, an aspiring actress, begins to feel the effects immediately: a haunting dream leaves her off balance the next day to the indifferent of her boyfriend Greg (Mark Rapaport) who simply utters the ever infuriating phrase “it’s only a dream”. Noelle however is lead down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, QAnon and high-powered pedophile rings by the young woman, who brandishes newspaper cuttings from a leather briefcase, and claims that she is getting close to the truth of Epstein’s death.
The Scary of Sixty-First doesn’t ever seem to land on what type of horror film it wants to be. Is it a look at the power of spaces and architecture like Candyman? possession-based hauntings? Or a conspiracy-laced trip into our recent history? The answer is all of these. The intertwining narratives of Noelle and Addie’s experiences serves to highlight the dually sinister aftershocks of Epstein’s 2019 death: Noelle’s burgeoning obsession with cracking this great code of tarot codes, secret symbols speaks to the aspects of the “true crime” sub-genre of TV shows and podcasts that are available on just about every platform. Meanwhile, Addie occupies a purely possession-based space in the film: her room quickly becomes covered in pictures of Prince Andrew and Fergie, royal wedding memorabilia and candles as she moves manically round the room, crushing oranges under her feet as pink light gives the whole scene a warm, filmic glow.
The script, written by Nekrasova and Madeline Quinn, occasionally leaves the mysterious elements behind in favour of conspiracy theory bingo: mentions of pizzagate, Royal family assassinations, the Clinton death cult and MK Ultra all sneak their way in, in what feels like a cynical move to generate an air of scandal around the film — the very premise that two women move into an apartment that is haunted with the spirit of Jeffrey Epstein is controversial enough.
Perhaps not the most narratively compelling film, The Scary of Sixty-First is a strong debut that is unafraid to wear its horror influences and occasionally meandering thoughts about the nature of power on its sleeve.
The Scary of Sixty First screened at the virtual edition of Berlinale Film Festival 2021
by Rose Dymock