The Scary of Sixty-First review

Inspired by Jeffrey Epstein, The Scary of Sixty-First captures contemporary alienation

“A film rarely nails the anxiety and paranoia of living in a sick society as well as this one does.”

Growing up online pre-Facebook was a hardening experience. Anonymity reigned, and vulnerability was calloused into a fuck-everything attitude as a means of self-protection. For those who came of age in that environment, the direction of contemporary discourse comes as no surprise. When it comes to playing the Internet game, those with a dark, irreverent sense of humour reign supreme and caring about anything becomes the ultimate liability. 

It’s rare for a film to capture the mood and experience of that era, a strain of online living that has not precisely died out but morphed into shitposting and provocateurs on a much larger scale. For better and worse, Dasha Nekrasova’s indie conspiracy thriller The Scary of Sixty-First — her feature debut — mines that world’s language and mood. The same sense of humour and darkness helped thrust her podcast, Red Scare, co-hosted by Anna Khachiyan, to the top of the podcast charts. 

In The Scary of Sixty-First, two young women are on the search for an apartment. When they find one on the Upper East Side, they’re willing to ignore some major red flags (a sketchy realtor and hastily abandoned furniture) because there’s no time to be choosy in a precarious real-estate market. It’s not long before another young woman shows up, plunging the already fragile peace into anxious conspiracy. First posing as a realtor, she confesses she’s investigating the crimes of notorious sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein.

The Scary of Sixty-First review
Betsey Brown and Madeline Quinn

Angsty, messy and even histrionic, The Scary of Sixty-First taps into a desperate mode of engagement that contemporary dialogues have fallen into, translating the alienation of online life to a half-lived fleshy experience. Shot in 16mm, with a retro synth score by Eli Keszler, the film plunges us into the realm of exploitation early on. With hints of Roman Polanski’s apartment trilogy, particularly paranoia associated with the anonymous panopticon of urban living, the film captures what few contemporary exploitation films do: a genuine investigation into the most prurient and voyeuristic impulses of contemporary life. 

Whereas emotions reign in most cultish corners of the Internet (from QAnon’s rage to the “resistance’s” indignation), The Scary of Sixty-First seems born from the third strain of affected apathy. The predominant tone of the film wavers between IDGAF coolness and an almost desperate desire to be shocked into living. Maybe, the film posits, if I publicly masturbate in front of Jeffrey Epstein’s townhouse, I’ll actually feel something — bliss, shame or transcendence. Maybe if I find concrete proof of Epstein’s crimes and establish an intimate connection to them, I’ll be able to do something. Maybe the opposite is also true. Maybe being confronted with all the bullshit the world offers will only confirm what you knew to be true: nothing is worth caring about; fuck everything and everyone. 

It’s easy to see why some viewers who weren’t offended by the content or story of The Scary of Sixty-First  were otherwise turned off by this attitude. We should all strive to do better, and we should all care for each other. It would be better if we were all engaged and had fluffy butterflies bouncing around inside of us. Still, the reality is that many people living in Western society are deeply disillusioned, and often with good reason. Nekrasova’s film won’t turn someone to the dark side any more than The Joker will. The film merely reflects the audience’s way of life that seems increasingly unrewarding and unsustainable. 

Not everyone will vibe with the on-the-nose provocations of The Scary of Sixty-First, but as someone who watches a lot of genre films, a film rarely nails the anxiety and paranoia of living in a sick society as well as this one does. While I don’t want all the movies to wallow in hopelessness and apathy, it’s deranged to imagine a cinematic landscape populated solely by aspirational junk that offers pat and unrealistic moral guidance that only upholds violent power structures. I’ll take this film over a new Marvel movie any day of the week. ■

The Scary of Sixty-First, directed by Dasha Nekrasova

The Scary of Sixty-First is playing exclusively at Cinéma Public as of today, Friday, April 29.

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