Director and co-writer of The Scary of Sixty-First, Dasha Nekrasova, is perhaps most famous for her role on Succession, and most infamous as the co-host of Red Scare, the prankish “shit-lib” podcast that people my age love to hate. The latter is a show that exists to provoke, often using harsh language and a general dismissiveness to discuss the issues of the day, both important and ridiculous. While I hate to bring up the podcast in discussing a completely separate creation of Nekrasova’s, I do so in order to try and describe the oddball tone of her post-mumblecore throwback horror film. What I mean is that I cannot tell what parts I’m supposed to take seriously and what parts are meant to make me roll my eyes or chuckle. If your tastes align with my own, you’ll find this as fun as I did. But for those among us who can’t dance with this particular tiger, you may find the film frustrating.
To a degree, I figure this is the point.
Nekrasova co-stars alongside her co-writer, Madeline Quinn, and one of my all-time favorite performers. Betsey Brown (if you have not seen Assholes, you simply must — I promise you will hate it, which is also the point). Brown and Quinn play Noelle and Addie, respectively, two young women in the process of moving into a fully furnished Manhattan apartment. Almost immediately upon taking residence tension arises between the two roommates, and when a mysterious conspiracy theorist (Nekrasova) shows up with information which suggests that the apartment may have been used in the shady adventures of one Jeffrey Epstein (who didn’t kill himself), things start to go sour very quickly.
Beyond that, it’s a hard film to describe, but its effectiveness is undeniable. Existing somewhere between Possession, Luz, and Frances Ha, the DIY vibe lends itself in equal measure to both horror and comedy. But what individual viewers will determine to be funny and/or scary will certainly differ across the board. Horror and comedy have always been tied at the hip (they are the only two genres whose success is measured by an involuntary response in the viewer), but typically the line is drawn pretty clearly. Your reaction is up to you, but there’s little question of most films’ intentions in any given moment. With The Scary of Sixty-First, much like on Red Scare, the viewer is invited to react however they want, while the material itself seems to roll its eyes at anyone who thinks about it too much. I am sure this will drive some people absolutely fucking crazy, but what can I say? I’m a fan.
There are moments where the acting is terrible, the audio feels unrefined, and the editing has a sort of “student film” energy, but none of these lapses in quality read as accidental. Every choice feels deliberate, leading to an experience that, while tonally all over the place, is constantly entertaining, and frequently upsetting/hilarious. You have to be a good filmmaker to do bad properly, and I suspect Nekrasova knows what she is doing.
I now plan to use the rest of the review to declare that Betsey Brown (once again, please watch Assholes) is one of the best actresses working today. She goes big in ways that I fail to describe without making it sound like a jackass sketch, and she does so without an ounce of ego. When I drew a connection to Possession a few sentences ago, I did so with Isabelle Adjani’s performance in my head. Brown takes a similar manic energy and makes it just as human (and therefore just as scary), while also keeping things absurd enough to draw laughter. It’s a fine line to walk and most performers couldn’t even take a step without faltering. Brown sprints down this line flawlessly. Hers is a performance that no other actor working today could pull off. I am not using hyperbole when I say this.
At the end of the day, even if this oddball film doesn’t work as well for you as it did me (I suspect a lot of people will absolutely despise it), I don’t think anyone can say its provocations aren’t effective. Whether or not it’s an empty provocation is up to you to decide.
Directed by Dasha Nekrasova
Written by Dasha Nekrasova, Madeline Quinn
Starring Betsey Brown, Madeline Quinn, Dasha Nekrasova, Mark Rapaport
Unrated, 81 minutes