QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM BERLIN
I am not thrilled to say hat the scariest thing about this horror movie is the acting. It’s so bad it brings back suppressed memories of watching student plays in people’s basements. While everyone is forgiven for their first experiments in literature and movie-making, it’s another thing to bring work this terrible to a platform like the Berlinale. While the role of a festival is to provoke and inspire, to put strange and challenging work onto the screen, this film barely registers on an intellectual level either, hampered by amateur dramatics so poor they wouldn’t pass in a panto. It seriously puts into question the credibility of the festival, kowtowing to fake American culture wars that have no basis in the real world.
Whatever The Scary of Sixty-First is trying to do, you have to first be invested in extremely online American pop culture theories to glean any meaning out of its horrors. It’s about billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who died in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in New York on August 10th 2019. The official verdict is that he killed himself, yet the evidence surrounding his death is so screwy that many people on the internet claim he was murdered to cover up a larger conspiracy involving the likes of Prince Andrew and the Clintons.
The other thing to know is that it’s directed by Dasha Nekrasova, one half of the Red Scare podcast, who say cool stuff like Putin is their “daddy” and that climate change is a “bourgeois eschatology”. Their podcast is pretty sad, containing only minimal interest if all you do is care about in-fighting within tired leftist American politics.
Together its the perfect provocation (for Americans) — but take away the context, focus entirely on the film itself, and what you are left with is a giallo homage that falls flat on almost every level. It starts promising enough, with a rising synth score and a fast-paced survey of New York’s streets that drain it of any charm. But when the characters, odd-ball friends Addie (Betsey Brown) and Noelle (Madeline Quinn) start talking, my heart sunk, both actors talking like they’re just about to pause, swear and ask for their lines again.
They have just moved into a new apartment, which gives off a strong Polanski-vibe, with weird entrances and exits. It’s downright peculiar, confirmed when The Girl (Dasha Nekrasova) turns up saying that it used to be a flophouse where Epstein either raped or killed his victims. Soon the spirit of the notorious pedophile is everywhere, turning the film into an orgiastic feast of depravity and death. At many times, in its writhing, gesticulating, shouting and screaming, it feels like it’s trying to channel the masterpiece Possession (1981). That film starred Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill. This film doesn’t. It shows.
It doesn’t help that these characters are also extremely annoying. They’re edgy in a kind of 12-year-old-with-a-big-brother way, saying “faggot”, “retarded” and “cuck” with absolute glee, barely hiding the sophomore smugness of the screenplay. I wasn’t offended — cause there’s nothing offensive in the film, despite its attempts to challenge cultural norms — just tired. Very, very tired.
Ultimately, the film suggests that Epstein is now the new big bad of our modern society. In actuality, he was a sad and pathetic man and very few people will mourn his death. It’s this kind of American-centric view in a world containing leaders such as ‘daddy’ Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko, Xi Jingping and Mohammed bin Salman, that make you realise how much of the culture war is a pathetic distraction. And if that was the aim of the film, then I guess it actually succeeded!
It’s fun to delve into and even satirise conspiracy theories: something expertly rendered in the loop shaggy comedy Under The Silver Lake, Adam Curtis documentaries and even Oliver Stone’s JFK. It’s not fun, however, to have Reddit facts quoted to you, along with repeats of YouTube videos that are easily available to the public. It’s a bit like being cornered in party with the biggest boor imaginable, unable to pivot the conversation to something jovial like football or the weather.
Maybe there’s another extra joke layered in there about the nature of easily believing conspiracy theories. Maybe the bad acting is another post-ironic joke. Maybe I missed the point entirely. Whatever it is, I’m not going to waste my time finding out.
The Scary of Sixty-First plays in the Encounters strand of the Berlinale, running digitally from 1st to 5th March.