You know how some people are always talking about wanting to direct a movie and co-host a popular podcast and be on the most popular show on television? Somebody has done all of those things: Dasha Nekrasova.
Nekrasova, 30, is a self-styled provocateur and artistic polymath whom fans of the recently completed season of “Succession” will recognize as Comfrey, the crisis public-relations rep put through hell by Kendall Roy. Before that, she was best known for Red Scare, an irreverent cultural-critique podcast she co-hosts with her friend Anna Khachiyan.
She first came to public attention via a “woman on the street” interview with InfoWars that went viral, and her interest in conspiracy theories can be unnerving to some fans even as friends defend her. But it’s that interest that underpins “The Scary of Sixty-First,” her feature directing debut, which she also stars in and wrote, with Madeline Quinn.
The film (now in theaters and opening Dec. 24 on digital platforms) is a louche, scrappy horror movie about young roommates, played by Betsey Brown and Nekrasova’s collaborator, Quinn, who move into an apartment on the Upper East Side.
But not just any apartment: it was once owned by Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who killed himself in jail after his arrest on sex trafficking charges in 2019.
Nekrasova said she decided to make a horror movie centered on Epstein because she was “obsessed” with his death. “It broke my brain, in a way,” she said in a phone interview. Nekrasova believes, as does her character in the film, that Epstein — “based on my research,” she said — didn’t die by suicide, as the New York medical examiner determined, but was killed.
“My interest in filmmaking and in Jeffrey Epstein dovetailed in genre,” she said. “Besides me already being preoccupied with it, it was a good way to tell the story. It was so scary. It was so monstrous.”
In the film, Nekrasova plays a young woman whose obsession with Epstein’s death, and the many conspiracy theories surrounding it, grows while a demonic force turns the characters into mini-cauldrons of paranoia, sexual mania and butchery. Shot on 16 millimeter, the movie looks like a low-fi Sundance breakout circa 1991, and brings to mind the gritty thrillers of the renegade filmmaker Abel Ferrara, whom Nekrasova cites as an inspiration.
“The Scary of Sixty-First” is getting a mix of critical responses. Its co-star, Brown, said that as dark as the film is, it’s “a romp to watch” with an audience, especially those drawn to horror, because “it says we can take the absurdity of this disgusting man and laugh” out of discomfort.
“Dasha is doing something cathartic,” she said.
In conversation, Nekrasova comes across as definitional Gen X even though she’s a Millennial — a disaffected and misleadingly unambitious slacker with a whatever ethos who’s also intensely interested in understanding people she disagrees with.
Nekrasova was born in Minsk, Belarus, and moved a few times with her parents, including to Las Vegas, where she attended a performing arts high school. She said she started to love horror after she watched a trailer for “The Exorcist” and saw Linda Blair descend stairs in a backbend.
“That really implanted itself in my consciousness,” she said.
Nekrasova went viral in 2018 for a video in which an Infowars correspondent corners her at South by Southwest and interviews her about socialism. Nekrasova handled the gotcha exchange with poise but also a “girl, please” detachment. In the video, she wears a fitted sailor top, as if she’s on break from a rehearsal for “Anything Goes,” leading social media to call her Sailor Socialism.
“It happened around the time that I started my podcast, and it contributed to the audience we’ve been able to amass,” she said. “I’m happy people are still enjoying it.”
Three years later, the video doesn’t come across as an act of sabotage against Infowars as much as it does a meet-cute: In November, Nekrasova posted a photo on Instagram of her and Khachiyan playfully flanking Alex Jones, the Infowars host who spread bogus stories about the deadly 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and was sued for defamation by families of 10 victims. He lost all the lawsuits. Nekrasova and Khachiyan also released an interview with Jones and Alex Lee Moyer, the director of a documentary about the far-right broadcaster.
On the subsequent episode, Nekrasova called Jones “an incredible entertainer” and wondered if his beliefs about the Sandy Hook shootings may have been a psychotic episode set off by childhood traumas of his own.
She stands by her take even as some of her social media followers blanched. (“Ooooof that’s not a good look,” one commenter said.)
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“I think yeah, he’s a performer,” she said over the phone. “He’s in this space that not many people are in. He’s between a pundit and a performer.”
The director Alex Ross Perry (“Her Smell”), a friend of Nekrasova, calls her “inherently a contradiction,” like a living issue of the newsmagazine The Week.
“One paragraph is a very pro-Bernie Sanders perspective from one newspaper and the next is a conservative paper telling you what’s wrong with what you just read,” said Perry, who moderated a Q. and A. with Nekrasova on Saturday after a screening of her film in Manhattan. “I enjoy that — hearing the thing that you hear a lot, followed by a very considered deconstruction of why it might be nonsense, followed by the admission that it might be nonsense because we are powerless in this system, which is kind of what her movie is about.”
Brown posits that Nekrasova is “provoking people to misunderstand her” to highlight “the fact that you can’t understand someone based on who she decides to interview.”
“To take in her whole being,” Brown said, “is to acknowledge that people are complicated, and you can say one thing but also not mean it in a couple weeks and that’s not the end of the world.”
Political provocateur, truth-seeker, avid lampooner, outré creator: Nekrasova is calling the shots from all four viewpoints.
“We are in a time where everything is glossy and overproduced, and to see something be a little raw or off the cuff or D.I.Y. feels like a throwback to an early era,” Nekrasova said. “People talk about the culture war, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been in a culture war.”