In her 1971 review of William Friedkin’s grimy crime thriller The French Connection, Pauline Kael describes New York as a “city in breakdown.” Films made in the city during the late 60s and early 70s couldn’t help but capture the chaos. As Kael writes, “the hookers and junkies in the freakshow on the screen are indistinguishable from the ones in the freakshow on the streets.” Hollywood directors of the day could hide skid row behind plywood sets and camera tricks. Most directors working in New York either didn’t have the time or the inclination to shoot around the trash, and thus the line between fact and fiction became so blurry as to be nonexistent.
New York has changed a great deal since then. Its cinema has not. A real rain has come and washed Kael’s bums, dopers, junkies, and whores off the streets–but the intrepid directors who take the city as their muse have no choice but to render it as it stands. Dasha Nekrasova’s directorial debut The Scary of Sixty-First is no exception.
The New York of The Scary of Sixty-First is not the New York of Super Fly or Cruising–it’s barely the New York of Seinfeld. But it is the New York of now. Sure, the streets are clean, but they’re also ominously empty of people. You get the sense that everyone with anything that might be called a survival instinct got out while the getting was good and left the Big Apple to the worms. Further, Nekrasova and Madeleine Quinn’s script perfectly captures the frenzied amphetamine patter of the city’s more eccentric culturati, rushing the audience through a plot that plays like a combination of Rosemary’s Baby, Eyes Wide Shut, Possession, and your Twitter feed. A pair of mismatched roommates (Betsey Brown and Madeline Quinn) discover their Manhattan apartment was, until recently, the secret fuckpad of none other than everyone’s favorite Satanic pedophile. No, not Charlie Sheen–Jeffrey Epstein. The revelation embroils both women in a byzantine conspiracy that implicates everyone from Hillary Clinton to Prince Andrew, and culminates in an entertaining–if not particularly inspired–twist that I won’t spoil here.
It’s always risky paying homage to the greats. On the one hand, your name will be mentioned in the same breath as Polanski, Kubrick, and Zulawski. But on the other hand, your name will be mentioned in the same breath as Polanski, Kubrick, and Zulawski. It speaks well of Nekrasova’s talents as a young writer and director, then, that her references to the films named above do not completely overwhelm her own creative vision.
The Scary of Sixty-First is by turns hilariously funny and grotesquely macabre. The combination is occasionally off putting, though it’s nice to feel like there’s a person behind the camera for a change in this era of committee approved blockbusters. I’d trade a thousand Black Widows for one Scary of Sixty-First. It’s authentic in the same way The French Connection is, but Nekrasova trades Friedkin’s blaring sirens and hardboiled machismo for a world of quiet paranoia and lurid lesbianic love affairs. She paints a damning picture of the New New York. The Scary of Sixty-First is the kind of movie that will make you want to make movies, and with its upcoming release on Shudder sometime later this year I’m hopeful we’ll see a wave of sleazoid Epsploitation movies in the near future.