Review: Ambition trumps coherence in ‘The Scary of Sixty-First’
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It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer level of ambition in writer-director Dasha Nekrasova’s debut feature, “The Scary of Sixty-First.” Shot on 16-millimeter film, the movie is partly a mumblecore comedy about self-absorbed 20-somethings, partly a series of riffs on bloody Italian “giallo” thrillers and Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” and partly — no kidding — a deep dive into the conspiracy theories surrounding the life and death of billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
But grand ideas don’t automatically produce great cinema. “The Scary of Sixty-First” sprinkles a few funny lines and some striking images across its 81-minute running time, but it’s dispiritingly shaggy for such a short movie.
Madeline Quinn (who also co-wrote the script) plays Noelle, who against her better judgment moves into a fancy Manhattan apartment with Addie (Betsey Brown), a casual friend she finds annoying. After an anonymous stranger (played by Nekrasova) shows up and claims the ladies are living in one of Epstein’s old sex dens, Noelle falls down a rabbit hole of “dark web” research while Addie starts behaving strangely, seemingly possessed by one of Epstein’s underage assault victims.
Mark Rapaport has most of the film’s best moments, playing Addie’s oversexed, dim-bulb boyfriend, Greg. Some of the sharpest social critiques in “The Scary of Sixty-First” come via Greg, who represents a paternalistic society where men see their sexual desires as paramount. (When Addie has a nightmarish vision of one of Epstein’s creepy hot-oil massages, he responds, leeringly, with, “What kind of oil?”)
But after a promising opening, the plot goes in circles. The last half of the film mostly consists of repeated scenes of Noelle and the stranger walking around New York and swapping increasingly paranoid Epstein theories. And, back at the apartment, Addie speaks in a squeaky “little girl” voice and rolls around half-naked with children’s toys and pictures of some of Epstein’s famous friends.
Nekrasova takes some admirably big chances with “The Scary of Sixty-First,” such as daring to startle the audience with a scene based on Epstein’s death by strangulation and pushing multiple sex scenes beyond the boundaries of merely “transgressive.”
But this boldness comes at the expense of coherence. This film offers a flurry of provocations and up-to-the-minute cultural references that never fully connect. It keeps coming to the brink of saying something clearly and furiously about sex, power and class before retreating back to the simpler path of raw shock value.
'The Scary of Sixty-First'
Rated: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Playing: At Los Feliz 3
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