GORE IN THE STORE
THE SCARY OF SIXTY-FIRST ***
Directed by Dasha Nekrasova.
Starring Madeline Quinn, Betsey Brown, Dasha Nekrasova.
Horror, US, 82 minutes.
Streaming on Shudder from 3rd March.
Moving into their new apartment, Noelle and Addie soon suspect that it may have a dark history attached when they discover rotting food in the fridge and blood on the bedsheets. Addie experiences vivid nightmares sleeping in the bed while a mysterious visitor, known only as The Girl, ropes Noelle into an investigation of the apartment when she reveals that it was owned and used by none other than Jeffrey Epstein. As Noelle and The Girl tumble head first into a myriad of conflicting conspiracies Addie starts to behave in an extremely troubling fashion.
Dasha Nekrasova’s directorial debut skirts up to the edge of bad taste and jumps in with both feet. Taking an issue that still makes major headlines and using it in a way that many will see as exploitative, and shallow is either an act of misguided bravery or extreme stupidity. At first it feels like the latter with its awkward and raw acting, obvious dialogue, and shallow characters. One thing that soon becomes clear is that as a director, Nekrasova, who plays The Girl and co-writes with Madeline Quinn who plays Noelle, is fearlessly confrontational in her approach. Events soon reach levels that will no doubt have some viewers reaching for the stop button while the rest will be left feeling shocked in a way that no other film in recent memory has come close to achieving. One scene, set on the doorstep of Epstein’s actual New York home has obviously been filmed without permission, lending the whole production a real guerrilla filmmaking edge.
Through the characters of Noelle and The Girl the films over the top satire soon comes into play. The willingness with which they delve into the myriad conspiracies surrounding Epstein and his death, taking absolutely everything, they find online and in their own drug induced ramblings as gospel, skewers the conspiracy minded fringes of society who have become so prevalent online and in real life. Pizzagate, the red pill, the occult and the completely bizarre adrenochrome theory are all mentioned and invoked here while massive swings are also taken at the Royal Family and Prince Andrew. There is an obvious and well-earned anger directed at that now notorious figure, as well as Epstein, but it is buried under several layers of satire and offensiveness that it does not ring through as clearly as it should. Maybe this is the point though. How such issues are always buried under sensationalism, leaving the plight of the actual victims to be ignored.
It is a film that holds the attention of those who can stomach it. Royalists will be very offended, “Queen Elizabeth is despicable!” Noelle exclaims at one point and then immediately doubles down with possibly the most outrageous remark that will be ever made about Her Royal Highness in cinema history. Fans of transgressive cinema will find a lot to admire with its 16mm film grain it carries a real grindhouse energy that is reminiscent of the low budget New York horrors of the 70’s and 80’s, particularly Frank Henenlotter and Abel Ferrara. Nekrasova, recently seen in the latest season of SUCCESSION, also has fun with showing and skewering the sleazy tropes of low budget horror amongst the more confrontational imagery on display throughout.
Shocking, offensive and at times very funny there is a lot to unpack here. At first it seems surprising that such a film would win Best First Feature at last year’s Berlin Film Festival but Dasha Nekrasova’s punk energy is a welcome shock to the system. How much here is purposefully satirical or just badly judged will take some time to figure out but it is scarily reassuring that a film like this can shake you to the core when you may think you have seen it all.