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Jeffrey Epstein was a monster, and his cursed spirit lives on in The Scary of Sixty-First, a wild indie throwback (Dec. 3 in LA; Dec. 17 in New York; Dec. 24 on VOD) that skillfully straddles the line between serious giallo homage and outlandish topical joke. Directed and co-written by Dasha Nekrasova (of Succession fame), it employs the late pedophilic financier’s crimes as a launching pad for sapphic Italian-style horror, delivering a strange blend of sincerity and silliness that marks Nekrasova as a talented filmmaker to watch.
Counting Suspiria, The Beyond and Repulsion as some of its many touchstones, The Scary of Sixty-First focuses on twenty-something friends Noelle (Madeline Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown), who move into an Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan that comes with the previous tenant’s old, glitzy furniture, as well as a Murphy bed whose mattress, we’ll soon learn, is covered in mysterious stains. Cleaning up the place, they find a collection of rotten and expired food, which prompts Noelle to criticize Addie for her “poverty mindset” (because she’s rejected the monetary assistance of her wealthy father), and drives Addie to purify her bedroom of bad energy by burning incense. More ominous still, Noelle stumbles upon a tarot card of “The Sun” in her bathroom cabinet, while Addie spies claw marks on the inside walls of her closet and stares uncomfortably at the mirror situated on the ceiling just above her air mattress.
Something is terribly amiss in this abode, and that impression is amplified from the start by Nekrasova, whose opening-credit sequence is a collection of creepy close-ups of carved gargoyle faces and cherubic angels on the façade of a New York City apartment building, and upward-gazing pans down (and aerial shots of) gray city streets and skylines. In a manner not unlike Peter Strickland (In Fabric), the director operates in a transparent Dario Argento mode, replete with 16mm print blemishes and a synth-heavy score to give the proceedings a vintage vibe. That’s further underscored by the narrative itself, about two young beauties who take up shop in a beguiling new residence full of bizarre doorways, chilling corridors and frightening basements, only to discover—with the assistance of an enigmatic stranger—that there’s something supernaturally sinister going on there and apt to devour them whole.
The interloper into Addie and Noelle’s lives winds up being an unnamed woman played by Nekrasova (here credited as “the girl”), who barges into the duo’s apartment while Noelle is home and immediately reveals that it used to be an “orgy flophouse” owned by none other than Jeffrey Epstein. “Maybe he housed his slaves here,” she opines within minutes of meeting Noelle, and the sheer bluntness with which she introduces this twist—and starts dispensing all sorts of details about her “investigation” into Epstein’s sex crimes—is both funny and in tune with the general dreamlike atmosphere conjured by Nekrasova. In true giallo form, The Scary of Sixty-First exists in an unreal landscape of terror and desire, of foreboding and paranoia, and thus the bonkers quality of this Epstein bombshell doesn’t feel the least bit out of place; on the contrary, it proves a natural fit, given Epstein’s own links to the sort of crazy Pizzagate-ish Satanic panic that often drives thrillers such as this.
With an amusingly straight face, Nekrasova’s girl proclaims, “I’m not like normal people. I’m obsessed with political struggle.” As it turns out, she’s also a fount of Epstein conspiracy theories who’s distrustful of the federal government, convinced that the financier was murdered rather than committed suicide, and curious about the Caribbean “pedophile island” that he owned, which YouTube videos indicate boasted a square structure covered in suspicious white and blue lines. Such motifs will reappear later in The Scary of Sixty-First, which becomes increasingly lurid once Addie falls under her apartment’s damned spell. Having been spurned by Noelle (with whom she had a prior college tryst), Addie seeks solace in the arms of her loser boyfriend Greg (Mark Rapaport), whom she unnerves during sex by requesting that he pretend she’s underage—culminating with the demon-voiced demand, “Fuck me like I’m 13!”
Epstein’s pedophilic evil has infested Addie, who takes to frantically masturbating on the steps of the billionaire’s other NYC properties, sucking her thumb like she’s sucking on something else entirely, and furiously rubbing her crotch with articles and photos of Prince Andrew. Eventually awash in gaudy red light, The Scary of Sixty-First is a simultaneously brazen and tongue-in-cheek censure of Epstein and Andrew as pedophilic predators who apparently carried out their illicit activities in five apartment buildings whose locations, together, create a Satanic geographic pentagram. In between bouts of lovemaking and snooping about—including the discovery that Addie has ordered a commemorative silver spoon from Andrew and Fergie’s wedding!—Nekrasova’s girl opines about Epstein’s reign of terror and the pedophilic underworld it’s exposed, “This is our 9/11.” It’s an overstatement of hilarious absurdity, with Nekrasova conflating fantasy and reality, solemnity and schlockiness, to ace effect.
A visit to a magical apothecary that results in the acquisition of an obsidian stone also factors into this sordid tale, which is sexualized to such a fervent degree that it manages the not-inconsiderable feat of raising one’s temperature and eliciting chuckles at the same time. Upon hearing that Addie loves everything British, Nekrasova’s girl remarks, “Anglophilia is one thing, but pedophilia…”, to which Noelle responds, “What kind of fucking cuck bootlicker is even into the royals?” Nekrasova and Quinn’s script smears Andrew’s supposed guilt in the audience’s face, via Addie behaving profanely with his image, and with a finale of unholy ritualistic sacrifice and murder that marries old-school stylishness with modern-day wit.
Clearly, The Scary of Sixty-First will not go over well at Buckingham Palace, but its use of real-world malevolence and scandal for B-movie kicks is assured, thanks largely to the stewardship of Nekrasova, who has a knack for the disorienting nightmarish irrationality of ’70s and ’80s exploitation efforts. Her feature directorial debut may sometimes come across as a lascivious lark, but it’s nonetheless an accomplished one that suggests she’s got even more daring work in her future.