I love horror films. If you follow my blog it certainly isn’t apparent, as I tend to get a little overzealous in my fixation with crime cinema, but well-constructed and imaginative horror really pumps my nads, as John Bender would say. Slashers can be a lot of brainless fun, but I tend to tire easily with the bulk of millennial horror franchises such as Final Destination, Saw, Paranormal Activity et al, splatter-porn and relentless jump scares being lazy and boring in my humble opinion. What I truly live for are the slow-burning, atmospheric and deeply eerie chillers that don’t rely on the aforementioned hackneyed tropes. I love the stuff that really speaks to our primal fears.
When it comes to all-time favourites, The Shining and Angel Heart work in tandem for me, their hope-shattering atmospheres of devastating, apocalyptic dread making my hairs stand on end and inducing existential iffiness like nothing else can. The VVitch, It Follows and The Babadook are three recent standouts of imaginative prime-rib scariness that strengthened my confidence in the notion that there are still plenty of creators out there with enough passion to put the effort into building sinister tension that makes you sit on one arse cheek and break out in sweats. It also goes without saying that I adore John Carpenter and his idiosyncratic brand of popcorn frighteners, but anyway, this is in danger of becoming a cherry-picking ramble, on with the review.
Baskin, the feature-length debut of Turkish director Can Evrenol, is a surreal and unremittingly brutal phantasmagoria of a film, a quintessential example of a piece that reflects how much its creator cares about the genre and immersing the audience in a world that is literally and figuratively nightmarish, offering an aesthetically fantastic experience that is free of cookie-cutter answers and abundant with imagery and thematic implications that will have even the most hardened horror-hounds clamouring for a fluffy pick-me-up when it’s over.
A crew of five police officers sit in a rural cafe late into a stormy evening, eating dinner, drinking and bantering in a typically coarse manner. They are Boss Ramzi (Ergun Kuyucu), the tough-but-fair officer-in-charge, frivolous clown Apo (Fatih Dokgöz), the oafish bully Yavuz (Muharrem Bayrak), broodingly nervous wreck Seyfi (Sabahattin Yakut) and the newest recruit, a shy and thoughtful young man named Arda (Gorkem Kasal). They boisterously argue over betting odds on football, tell crude stories about sexual experiences, Arda (who has actually been raised by Ramzi from a young age, the latter being a close friend of the young man’s family) has substantive discussions with his mentor, and Yavuz mercilessly picks on a young waiter as his colleagues don’t take him seriously as a scary tough guy.
Amid all these shenanigans, a bizarre hooded figure approaches the back of the restaurant carrying a pail full of raw meat that the chef promptly takes and begins preparing, and a headache-stricken Seyfi briefly retires to the bathroom to splash his face, only to stare at his reflection with a concern that accelerates into a full-blown, screaming terror. As the other four tend to Seyfi, who claims that he felt like he was momentarily losing his mind before inexplicably regaining normalcy, the group receive a radio call requesting back-up at a place named Inceagac. A mysterious location deep in the woods, the mere mention of the name is enough to give all five men the creeps.
As the officers make haste to the callout spot in a clapped-out police van, they accidentally hit something, possibly a person but it’s too dark to tell. Hurriedly leaving the vehicle and searching the surrounding area with flashlights, they come across a campfire huddled over by bedraggled, spookily reticent locals who inform them that they’ve reached their destination and offer to escort them to the building where the initial team called for reinforcements, though they convey a highly daunting ‘you’ll stay away if you know what’s good for you’ vibe. Peevishly dismissing such superstitious nonsense, the cop quintet follows the way to a large, gothic-looking abandoned building that apparently served as a police station in the days of the Ottoman Empire. So far, so not looking good.
As their impromptu guide runs back to his campfire, our heroes reluctantly make their way inside. The officers who called for back-up nowhere in sight save for one dazed and traumatised man with a head injury, our men discover that they have stumbled onto something that they couldn’t have prepared for in a million years. The building is smeared in filth, strange candle arrangements and incantations adorn the floors and walls of rooms, ungodly noises echo all around them and horrific, quasi-demonic looking folks in blindfolds run around shrieking and covered in viscera. The local fables about Inceagac being of another world might not be such hogwash after all, and as they navigate through what is quite possibly Hell itself, it dawns on the men that there is something prophetic about their presence there, an eldritch mystery weighted in a diabolical ritual taking place under an ominous and terrifying figure known only as The Father (Mehmet Cerrahoglu). ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’ wouldn’t be putting too fine a point on it.
One of the facets I admire the most about Baskin is that it is stylish as hell. With Evrenol’s intimately disquieting direction, the eye-gasmic cinematography of Alp Korfali and Ulas Pakkan’s wonderfully creepy electronic score that evokes iconic 1980s horror movies, the visuals and soundscape effortlessly immerses the viewer from the word go, immediately imbuing us with a feeling that we’re in a place that has something extremely wrong with it, even if it is currently unknown to our focal cops as they lounge around bullshitting in a restaurant. It has a commendably atavistic horror aesthetic that you seldom see executed with precision anymore, the dread palpable in moments that are otherwise innocuous script perambulation. It is bolstered by very solid performances, the policemen’s’ anti-hero nature (except for Arda, who is very much a good-hearted ingenue) supplementing proceedings far more strongly than a typical ‘likeable everyman/woman has to face evil thing’ trope. The cops here are not the nicest guys around, but even in that instance, it’s a struggle to just say ‘serves ya right’ in light of the dilemma they’re to be plunged into.
Though it has a strong cult following, Baskin has nevertheless displeased a few moviegoers due to its elliptical approach to the subject matter, but that provided a resolute experience emotively. In a tip of the hat to A Nightmare On Elm Street, a bulk of the narrative is predicated on frightening dreams that Arda endured as a kid, along with a troubling suspicion that he and Ramzi share a kind of precognition, strange visions suggesting that ensuing events might not be a coincidence. It is very much ‘arthouse’ horror, involving philosophical dialogue that frames Hell as an existential abyss as opposed to a literal supernatural realm of horned pitchfork wielders, and this did nothing but accentuate the abject fear and despair, whetting the horror palate without complaint. Be warned, it’s extraordinarily violent, but not the threadbare bugbear variety that makes me apprehensive to watch the latest Hollywood spookfest. It’s been lovingly adorned with the moniker ‘The Turkish Hellraiser’, and while there certainly is a similarity in imagery, Baskin definitely stands on its own merit. Mehmet Cerrahoglu’s villain is also unforgettable in the best (or maybe worst?) kind of way.
It’s gory, it’s a potential headscratcher, and it’s not exactly ‘fun’. But, for my money, it’s fantastic. Every performance and technical aspect knocks it right out of the park, it provides the kind of horror that gets under your skin and makes you feel as though your heart is shrinking into your chest cavity rather than cheap jumps, and it has a challenging throwback quality that enables it to take its place among the great pensive horrors that don’t pander to the lowest common denominator. If you’re in the mood for something different whilst still getting your creep on, Baskin is where it’s at.