How Jeffrey Epstein Inspired Dasha Nekrasova’s Twisted Psychosexual Thriller ‘The Scary of Sixty-First’

Did Jeffrey Epstein kill himself, or was he murdered before the wealthy sex offender could point a finger and potentially implicate any of the high-profile, well-heeled predators in his orbit?

That’s the premise of Dasha Nekrasova’s provocative directorial debut “The Scare of Sixty-First.”

It’s a subject of intense interest to Nekrasova, an actor and host of the podcast “Red Scare,” who recalls living near the Metropolitan Correctional Center where Epstein was found dead in August of 2019. His presence, however unwelcome, loomed large over the city, and she found herself deep in an internet rabbit hole about conspiracy theories relating to Epstein’s demise. She became deeply suspicious of the true nature of his death, which was ruled a suicide with investigators saying the businessman strangled himself with his bed sheet. (In the movie, Nekrasova’s character attempts to recreate the strangulation to prove her theory.)

Though Epstein doesn’t appear in “The Scary of Sixty-First,” which premieres Tuesday at the Berlin Film Festival, his spirit permeates the movie. The film follows recent college graduates Noelle and Addie, who move into a fancy (yet curiously affordable) apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that once belonged to Epstein.

From there, the story spins into some bizarre terrain. It takes a sinister, psychosexual turn that involves Addie (portrayed by Betsey Brown) in a state of pseudo-possession, in which she’s compelled to forcefully pleasure herself outside Epstein’s multi-million dollar Manhattan townhouse and later to pictures of Prince Andrew, who was a friend of Epstein and was forced to retire from palace life amid allegations of sexual abuse. Those are just two of the graphic, ghastly scenes in the twisted thriller.

The conspiracy-charged script draws inspiration from Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant” and Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” Of the Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman film, which includes a sexual ritual taking place among one-percenters, she says “I saw memes after Epstein died that said it was a documentary.”

Ahead of its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, Nekrasova spoke to Variety about writing the film with Madeline Quinn (who plays Noelle), her theories for Epstein’s true fate and why she wants to keep his death in the public consciousness.

Where did you come up with the idea for the script?

I started writing it with my partner Maddie in September of the year before last, after Epstein was found dead. I, at the time of his death, was living very close to the prison where he died. His presence was very felt in New York and obviously there were extremely mysterious circumstances around his death so I felt a kind of mania and futility about the conspiracy of it all. The script really was born out of reckoning with the mystery of his death and the traumatic legacy of his life.

What kind of research did you do?

The research wasn’t done for the movie. It was done on my own volition prior to scripting because I was really just obsessed with it. I’m friends with one of the Jane Does who spoke out after his death. I went with her to the day they had in court. They invited the victims to say what they would have said had they had their day in court. That was a really impactful experience. The conspiracy stuff, there’s so much material with The Lolita Express flight logs, black book and everything. There was a sense for me, and a lot of people I knew, that if you could dig deep enough into this material, you could discover something. When I found the truth was more opaque and impossible to reckon with, that’s how the movie resolved itself.

Where do you think your obsession with the case come from?

The reason “Epstein didn’t kill himself” became such a powerful meme and a powerful concept, culturally, is because it epitomized the worst exploits of the ruling class. It was a vivid example that there was this systematic abuse and exploitation being perpetrated by a class of ruling elites.

The logline is a little unusual. Did you have any trouble getting financing?

Stag Pictures, who financed it, had made horror movies prior, so they were interested in making genre horror films. We sent them the script; we didn’t have a formal pitching process. They read it, and it resonated with them. They thought it was interesting.

How did you land on the storyline about the two roommates who move into the apartment that had been previously owned by Epstein?

That was born out of Epstein being this really prominent financier and specter of New York City real estate — and my own experiences trying to find an apartment to live in in New York as, at the time, a pretty marginalized person who didn’t have good credit or 40 times the amount of income you need to secure rent in New York City. That idea came to us out of the way that New York felt haunted by Epstein and New York real estate in general.

And what about the paranormal, demonic aspect? Did you know a lot about it prior to writing the film?

When I was going down the Epstein rabbit hole, I ended up learning about the cult dimension of the Epstein conspiracies, which dovetail into the ruling class essentially being a cabal of satanic pedophiles. I found out about this organization called Builders of the Adytum, who actually made the Tarot deck we used in the film. They are not affiliated with Epstein in any formal way, but they’re preoccupied with youth-preserving rituals and concepts like eternal wisdom. It made organic sense to tell a satanic story because the magnitude of the character of Epstein’s crimes were so horrifying and satanic and, to me, embodied a grave, earthly evil.

How did you decompress after filming? Was it difficult to get out of that headspace?

It definitely feels like it took years off of my life. And I guess by drinking, probably.

Were there any scenes in particular that were difficult or grueling?

A lot of it was grueling because I’m also acting in the film. That’s challenging in its own way. The climax of the movie that takes place outside of Epstein’s townhouse juxtaposed with the scene where I’m recreating the hanging — in the autopsy report they said he knelt with force and snapped his hyoid bone in his neck with a prison bed sheet — that was a physically demanding scene to film.

How did you film the strangulation scene?

We did have a stunt person on set who fashioned a harness out of the sheets so that I wouldn’t actually asphyxiate myself. But the sheet is still wrapped pretty tightly around my neck so I ended up bursting blood vessels around my eyes. I really wanted it to look like I was authentically choking myself. I leaned into it, knelt with force, if you will.

You said Epstein’s presence loomed over the city after he died. Did you feel that on set?

Not on set, but maybe at the townhouse. The townhouse definitely has an evil vibe. And the prison does as well, which is why we filmed at those two sites.

After your research, do you have theories about how Epstein died?

I definitely don’t think he killed himself. I think that’s highly improbable. I don’t have a favorite pet theory. The conclusion of the film is sort of about that feeling of futility, of not being able to know, of being helpless in the face of overwhelming power structures and forces.

What do you want audiences to take away? Is it just a horror movie or do you want people to think deeper about his life and death?

You could say the project is sort of to keep Epstein’s death in the consciousness in some way. Because I don’t think we’ve gotten any answers. And I don’t think we ever will. Those in power would really like us to forget.

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