Foreign horror movies can be a special kind of awesome. Take, for example, Turkish writer/director Can Evrenol’s [Housewife (2017)] debut feature-length foray into insanity, Baskin. Not only do you get to watch a fun horror movie, but you also get a 97-minute peek into what life is like in another culture; listen to another language, see the foods they eat, hear the jokes they tell, and get a feeling for what freaks them out. Apparently, in Turkey, they’re freaked out by animalistic cultists, weird demonic births, and frogs. Admittedly, I didn’t quite get the frogs thing, but I was right there with them on the other two. Global understanding through shared “Oh, my God, what the hell is that?!” experiences.
I did eight seconds’ worth of research and determined that the Turkish word Baskin in English means “a violent downwards blow” in certain contexts and “raid” or “incursion” in others, and that certainly fits with the main storyline here. While the film deftly flits from past to present and back again, the main focus is on a squad of policemen. It’s late at night, and they’ve been enjoying a post-shift meal at a restaurant. Talkative Yavuz [Muharrem Bayrak] regales his mates with stories, second-in-command Apo [Fatih Dokgöz] gives him crap in a good-natured way, and the young rookie, Arda [Görkem Kasal], takes it all in. Just happy to be there. Sharing in the camaraderie while maintaining a quiet distance is the boss, Remzi [Ergun Kuyucu; Taken 2 (2012)].
Once they’re on their way home — and after a great scene of the guys singing along with the radio — Apo receives a call from HQ. Another unit is requesting backup in the nearby village of Inceagac. A couple of the officers have heard stories of the place. “Nasty stories” of odd shrines and the like. They don’t get a chance to go into detail and the rest of the group brushes off the idea as nothing more than superstition until they arrive and find one of the officers from the unit who’d requested backup… incoherent, repeatedly banging his head against a wall, and sobbing. Things get less and less rosy from there.
If you noticed that this synopsis was quicker than some, you’ve just hit on Baskin‘s main weakness: style over substance. The whole thing reminded me of something you might have found in Clive Barker’s early splatterpunk collection, Books of Blood. Fantastic idea, spot-on execution, just don’t dig too deep because there’s nothing under all the frogs and viscera.
Honestly, though, that was the point of Barker’s short story collections and I choose to believe that’s the point of this film. In other words, who cares? Baskin is an artistic, goreful mindfuck, if you’ll pardon my French. Evrenol’s use of lighting and color — especially for a new director — ranks right up there with some of the best producers of horror, and he throws in some interesting transitions between shots for good measure. The practical effects are well done to the point of occasionally being uncomfortable to watch, and the actors do a great job with what they’re given. Especially first-timer Mehmet Cerrahoglu, who plays the lead cultist. Much like Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes (1977) fame, Mehmet is able to combine his rare physical condition with good ol’ fashioned intensity to wonderfully bring a very creepy character to life on the big screen.
The pacing of Baskin does slow down in the third act. Literally. As in, at one point the viewer is subjected to a long segment in slow motion. I would have preferred a quicker pace, even though I suspect it was done on purpose. Overall, however, this movie is a stabby, writhing treat and an impressive showing as the director’s first feature-length film.
Turn the lights down low, make sure your subtitles are on, and settle in for some Turkish craziness. Baskin is currently available for streaming on Netflix.