There are echoes of Roman Polanski (in more than one way) in the new thriller The Scary of Sixty-First. Set in a New York apartment and shot in 16 mm, the film has the similarly cramped creepiness of Rosemary’s Baby. When the new occupants, Addie (Betsy Brown) and Noelle (Madeline Quinn), discover that the ridiculously inexpensive dwelling was rumored to be used by noted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, it additionally harkens back to the infamous director.
The movie is the debut of Dasha Nekrasova, noted podcast provocateur of The Red Scare, which has covered Epstein’s death in a number of episodes. She cast herself in a role credited only as “The Girl,” a woman researching conspiracy theories surrounding Epstein and the elite to whom he associated. Noelle is almost immediately drawn to The Girl, and the two prattle about various conspiracies on YouTube and tangential connections while hopped up on amphetamines.
Addie, meanwhile, seems to descend into a fit of sexual aggression, both alone and with her boyfriend. She wanders down the streets to the stoop of Epstein’s apartment, on which she vigorously masturbates and later asks her low-wattage boyfriend (Mark H. Rapaport) to engage in some rather questionable roleplay, which involves Epstein and Prince Andrew. Is she possessed by a former victim or a demonic spirit living within the walls?
“…the two prattle about various conspiracies on YouTube and tangential connections while hopped up on amphetamines.”
Noelle and The Girl begin following Epstein’s Manhattan trail, tossing out conclusions with actual footage of Epstein’s island, arrest, and controversial death. They also espouse the benefits of socialism in a manner that feels superficial, irrelevant, and like bohemian rhetorical foreplay between entitled white girls. What this adds to the overall story of The Scary of Sixty-First is lost on the viewers. What is Nekrasova trying to say about all of these issues? Aside from giving the audience some shaky-cam images to accompany their various conspiratorial rants, I do not know.
The leads’ flat, disengaged affectations do not help matters. Noelle, as a character, is insufferable. How anyone would want to befriend her, much less room with her, is utterly perplexing. With no discernable job or ambition, Noelle seems to thrive merely on taunting and belittling her roommate. Once The Girl enters, she perks up a tad, though only to string together coincidences into some mental gymnastics narrative that attempts to root them in occult traditions. This would be fascinating if Nekrasova and co-writer/star Quinn offered more than mere musings or strung it together in a coherent way.
The Scary of Sixty-First does not mind raising questions but does not seem interested in exploring them or trying to find definitive answers. It’s a shame as certain elements call upon previous horror films from the 1970s occult-loving heyday. But the movie is consistently undermined by unengaging characters and a meandering pop-culture mash-up narrative. It feels heavy on ideas but malnourished on follow-through.
"…certain elements call upon previous horror films from the 1970s occult-loving heyday."