The Scary Of Sixty-First


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Scary Of Sixty-First
"Drifting through the angst-ridden conversations of a classic New York drama before morphing into something more like giallo, the film makes a positive asset of its low production values, which give it a sense of freshness and urgency."

Some people, no matter how strong their friendship, are just never destined to get along when sharing a home. Addie (Betsey Brown) and Noelle (co-writer Madeline Quinn) are thrilled when they find an affordable place on New York’s Upper East Side, even if it’s oddly arranged and not exactly clean, but straight away, tensions emerge. Noelle imagines the two of them enjoying this arrangement for a long time. Addie sees it as a temporary home until she moves in with boyfriend Greg (Mark H Rapaport), though it’s not clear that that’s what he wants, and on a social level he seems to get on better with Noelle.

The situation is exacerbated when, one afternoon, a stranger (director Dasha Nekrasova) arrives at the door. Initially posing as an agent of the letting company, she soon reveals herself as an obsessive conspiracy theorist who wants to explore the apartment because she believes it once belonged to Jeffrey Epstein. Noelle is willing to accept this because, well, the stranger is cute, and pretty soon they’re sleeping together. As Noelle begins to absorb the stranger’s obsession (might a dental dam have been advisable?) something much stranger is going on with Addie, however. An apparent survivor of childhood abuse herself, she develops a different kind of obsession, making sexual suggestions which freak out poor Greg, and covering her walls in Prince Andrew memorabilia.

There’s a sense of vengeance, of taking ownership of forbidden ideas in this anarchic response to the Epstein case. The truth, or otherwise, of the characters’ beliefs doesn’t matter as much as the form they take and their emotional resonance. In the absence of any real closure (at least thus far), anger at what happened expresses itself in strange ways. There’s a sidelong look at the self-destructiveness often occasioned by abuse, and though Nekrasova may find comedy in very dark places she never belittles her characters or tells them what to feel. The freedom to explore these ideas, right on the edge of what’s socially acceptable, is itself a reassertion of young women’s power.

Drifting through the angst-ridden conversations of a classic New York drama before morphing into something more like giallo, the film makes a positive asset of its low production values, which give it a sense of freshness and urgency. The breathless performances may initially seem clumsy but the stars’ comic timing is spot on, with Rapaport particularly impressive. The story loses its cohesion towards the end as we enter territory in which it’s difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality, but that may be intentional. Nekrasova knows her cinematic reference points and one never gets the sense that she has lost control. Rather, she invites the audience to share the experience of characters who have lost their bearings in a world of extremes.

Though arguably constructed to shock, The Scary Of Sixty-First, part of 2021’s Newfest line-up, speaks to far more shocking realities. It seeks to provoke an emotional response to larger events which might once have been considered shocking in its absence. Without condoning or condemning her characters’ different approaches to what may or may not have happened in the apartment, Nekrasova positions those hypothetical events – and the ones we can be fairly certain really happened – as instigators of a sort of madness which extends far beyond those immediately affected. What does it mean to be a young woman growing up in a post-Epstein world? There will be blood.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2021
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Two mismatched roommates discover and relive the murky secrets of their new Upper East Side apartment.
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Director: Dasha Nekrasova

Writer: Dasha Nekrasova, Madeline Quinn

Starring: Betsey Brown, Madeline Quinn, Dasha Nekrasova, Michael M. Bilandic, Aaron Dalla Villa, Jason Grisell, Stephen Gurewitz, Ruby McCollister, Mark H. Rapaport

Year: 2021

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: US

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