The Scary of Sixty-First
-What Is It?-
The Scary of Sixty-First is a 2021 psychological horror film co-written, directed, edited by, and co-starring Dasha Nekrasova. The film follows two young women, an aspiring actress, Addie—portrayed with wilting neuroticism by Betsey Brown—and her friend, Noelle—portrayed with deadbeat charm by co-writer Madeline Quinn. The two friends have just moved into a New York apartment that they soon discover, one through direct contact, the other through an introduction to a conspiracy theorist researcher—portrayed with a manic pathos by Dasha Nekrasova—was previously owned by Jeffrey Epstein, and functioned as one of his many apartments across the city where he and his constituents raped, tortured, and perhaps even sacrificed young women. As the film progresses and the group of three women unravel more and more regarding not only the details of the Epstein case, but the lingering psyche of the apartment as well, the entire space becomes infected with a rancid carnal anima that reaches a fever pitch, and then, as quickly as it comes, snuffs.
-Why Is It Important?-
To those who have heard about this film through second or third-hand channels, and to the many who more likely than not have not, the premise may sound like some kind of independent common fare with a current events—though a few years past expiration date—novelty gimmick to draw in unsuspecting viewers who would pay no mind to a film of its kind without some kind of sensational hook to draw them in.
In this reviewer’s opinion, while there may be hints of that flavor in the film, the opinion stated above could not be farther from the truth.
For honesty’s sake, it must be said that The Scary of Sixty-First is messy, and not always in a way that is either endearing in the sense of artistic empathy, or in the sense of an orchestrated horrific movement. There are moments where amateur qualities do shine through—usually in short bursts of directorial or performative excess—and can momentarily bring viewers out of the scene, and remind them that they are indeed watching a debut first-effort feature film.
This reviewer believes that those moments of mess and excess, while they should be noted in critique—and more likely than not have been detailed in excess by other critics, with little self-awareness as to the irony regarding said excess critiquing excess—are what make the film a beautiful imprint of a feature.
Nekrasova may not be a full-fledged professional yet, but her grasp of symbolic deployment, overall direction, and sense of suspense and timing is wildly and surprisingly developed for someone of both her age, and what is known of her exposure to all the disparate elements of filmmaking thus far. She has been a working actress for some time, this is true—but it is one thing to be part of a film, and it is another to make it, and compared to others of her class, she brings something vibrant to the table where others have either failed to show up, or stalled entirely.
What is perhaps most notable about the film is the construction of its story and its thematic framework. More specifically, The Scary of Sixty-First is arrayed throughout its run with referential signs and symbols, and they are stitched into the fabric of the film with surprising care and thought. From the opening shots of sculptures of cherubs and demonic figures etched in old stone across New York—overlaid with a relatively expected, but still wonderful to see, opening credit text a la the style of John Carpenter—to the scattering of Christmas lights, trees, and other symbols reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut, to Tarot Cards, various artifacts of Epstein iconography, shots evocative of directors such as Polanski and Lynch, moments of modern online slang and parlance peppered, both successfully and not, throughout the dialogue, and more, much much more, Nekrasova’s story begs a repeat viewing. She has been able to infuse her film with a thematic structure that grounds it and adds depth, while also grafting on present-day forms and patterns that keep it relatively light on its feet and approachable. How much thought went into the aesthetic decisions and deployment of the symbolic-laden framework specifically will only become clear after further study, but it is at least indicative of a sensitivity and inclination to a level of storytelling that, though it may be in its adolescence, bears the hallmarks of potential maturation into something truly spectacular and perhaps even definitive.
It is because of the evidence of thought that was put into the basic construction of the story, and their balance with other more conventional elements that create a limpid equilibrium, that this reviewer believes Scary’s flaws, while they cannot be ignored, can be given some kind of relative reprieve. Rather than the result of holistic artistic arrogance, ignorance, or egoism, they appear rather to be the accidental missteps of an enthusiastic new director putting on her first show.
More than anything, what the film evoked in this viewer was perhaps partially due to bias. It is, admittedly, more than enjoyable, and wonderfully refreshing, to view a work of art from a relative generational contemporary that puts on display a perspective that is not only relatable from an intra-generational point of view, but also sincerely makes the effort, and in some moments genuinely succeeds in doing so, to converse with a larger artistic and aesthetic history and palette that many younger artists of a similar standing either appear unaware of, uninterested in, unable to reach, or consider themselves above. Such a leap into the unknown, with such abandon, energy, and poise, is more admirable than is really possible to express in so many words. All that can really and finally be said, from this reviewer, at least, is job well done, Ms. Nekrasova. And I cannot wait to see what you do next.
Despite some out-of-the-gate sloppiness and formal trip-ups that are more native to debut features as a whole rather than this film in particular, The Scary of Sixty-First promotes a young talent of intriguing promise with a film that takes what could be a tired premise and tackles it with fresh blood coupled with a surprisingly mature and promising thematic framework. Though the film or its maker haven’t reached the heights of the directors and artists they draw a clear inspiration from, there is an infectious energy to the micro-event this film has become, and the ripples it may continue to generate. All that can be done now is enjoy, or at least critique, the film for what it is, and wait to see what Nekrasova and her team’s next effort will be.