There's no definitive evidence that conspiracy theories are circulating more widely today than ever before, but just look at your Facebook feed. Distant cousins, former co-workers and that one guy you went to high school with seem to be embracing dangerous conspiratorial beliefs - from QAnon to coronavirus denial - with enthusiasm nowadays. Dasha Nekrasova takes it a step further with 'The Scary of Sixty-First', which she co-writes, directs, and stars in.
Wannabe actor Addie (Betsey Brown) and her friend, the unemployed and kooky Noelle (Madeline Quinn), move into a careworn Upper East Side Manhattan apartment, only to discover that it was once owned by the child-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. It's more crusty than upper-crust, but since the women spout lines like "poverty is a mindset", you can tell they won't be scared off by a filth-stained mattress.
When Noelle discovers the nameless Girl (Nekrasova) snooping around, she is informed about the grim history of her new abode. "This was some kind of orgy flophouse, maybe he housed his slaves here," the Girl tells her. This mysterious figure is convinced that Epstein's death wasn't a suicide and leads Noelle down the conspiracy wormhole. "Queen Elizabeth is despicable, she's a baggy old cunt and I wish she'd drop dead," Noelle is soon raging. Sex ensues.
Meanwhile, Addie is possessed by the ghost of one of Epstein's underage victims and starts licking photos of Prince Andrew and masturbating frantically in front of Epstein's multi-million dollar Manhattan townhouse. Her boyfriend Greg (Mark Rapaport) is unimpressed.
All that I know about Dasha Nekrasova is that she is an indie actress who was catapulted into... social media fame? ...podcast fame? ...by trolling an InfoWars reporter and posting it on Twitter in 2018. "The Chill Woman Who Pwned InfoWars", Vice dubbed her. Now she has a role on 'Succession', and 'The Scary of Sixty-First' recently won the prize for best first feature at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival. That is quite a trajectory and worthy of its own conspiracy theories.
Slow-burn indie horror-comedy can yield terrific results. Ti West's 'The House of The Devil' and 'The Innkeepers' are two examples of where normalcy meets terror, and how characters cling to the former longer than is advisable, because the characters don't naturally act like they're in a horror movie. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer's 'Starry Eyes' also chronicles a young actor's hunger for fame as a form of possession more effectively. Christopher MacBride's 'The Conspiracy'? A found-footage banger.
Despite a final sequence where the fabric of reality shreds and the vulnerability of the aimless protagonist becomes painfully evident, 'The Scary of Sixty-First' isn't scary. It only takes a glancing look at how infectious these paranoid conspiracy worldviews can be - Epstein seems to have been plonked into the narrative purely for shock value, so that a character can grunt things like "Fuck me like a 13-year-old!" in a demonic voice. The acting is stilted, the plot disjointed, and the dialogue veers into agonising internet gibberish about "cucks" and being "red-pilled". The comedy verges on millennial cliché - surreal settings, chaotically strange plotlines, and jokes that ring with an erratic absurdity. Clearly, I am old and this kind of internet-shaped humour can be highly subjective.
Despite a final sequence where the fabric of reality shreds and the vulnerability of the aimless protagonist becomes painfully evident, 'The Scary of Sixty-First' isn't scary.
If nothing else, Nekrasova's retro thriller gets the look and tone of Roman Polanski's 'The Tenant' and 'Rosemary's Baby', Stanley Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut' and Italian giallo-era horror schlock exactly right. The apartment isn't terribly atmospheric in itself, which cinematographer Hunter Zimny uses to the film's great benefit - the camera glides through rooms like a stalking apparition. Shooting on 16mm, there are low angles, a focus on creepy architecture (with gargoyles and cherubs aplenty) and an original score by percussionist Eli Keszler to build tension during the long stretches of the movie when nothing much is happening. Betsey Brown also commits to an impressive performance that recalls Isabelle Adjani's feral contortions in 'Possession'.
Some films are destined to be festival fodder or set aside for a marijuana movie night (a genre outlined in my review of 'Here Comes Hell'), and 'The Scary of Sixty-First' is one. Award it an extra one or two stars if you are under the influence and watching it with friends in a sold-out cinema.