It is telling that the single scariest image in Baskin emphasizes creeps over carnage. It’s a shot of a boy standing alone in his living room, illuminated only by the static glow of his family’s television set, which has inexplicably turned itself on in the middle of the night. Nothing about the scenario is overtly terrifying—at least until he shuts the TV off—but it is memorably real in a film where it’s difficult to distinguish what is and isn’t imagined. Grand guignol-level spectacle where every character in the frame is streaked with viscera—that’s one thing. Domestic peculiarities that invoke nocturnal aberrations, though, are another thing entirely.
But filmmaker Can Evrenol is pretty fixated on that guignol stuff, and so Baskin is best characterized as an off-kilter bloodbath by consequence. That’s great news for any horror fan with a fondness for displays of unbridled cruelty. Baskin indulges in nightmares and constructs itself from the disassembled pieces of the human form, arrayed across the screen in whichever artful ways Evrenol deems best. This is a movie with such a high incidental body count that its IMDB page credits actors for portraying corpses. If you are looking for a single word to sum up the film, try “gross.” If you’re looking for two: “super gross.” There are more prolifically disgusting horror movies in the distinguished canon of so-called torture porn, absolutely, but not many intend on being this bleak and grisly while being willfully mystifying.
And you know what? The whole thing works in spite of its grisly kinks and enigmas, or perhaps because of them. Baskin is an odd duck. The film is about a police unit investigating a call gone terribly wrong. This is how things start, with the group sitting around at a restaurant, trading bullshit macho tall tales to impress each other and giving the newbie to the team, Arda (Gorkem Kasal), a hard time per police initiation customs. Like Baskin’s opening shot, this scene is not without its eerie undertones: Before we meet Arda and his superiors—Sabo (Sabahattin Yakut), Apo (Fatih Dokgöz), Yavuz (Muharrem Bayrak), and Remzi (Ergun Kuyucu)—we watch a silent hooded figure deliver a bucket of meat to the restaurant, which we get to see prepared in close-up and hear through the aural magic of stomach-churning foley work.
It’s enough to turn your average steak lover vegan, though if not, Baskin has far worse in store as the cops take a trip down a gory rabbit hole into a world of devil worship. Think of the film as the lovechild resulting from a drunk night between Rob Zombie’s and Lucio Fulci’s filmographies, or a severely twisted cross-stitch of Inception and Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre. (Press materials also happily translate Baskin’s title as “police raid,” so if you note any parallels between Evrenol’s movie and the movies of Gareth Evans, congratulations on winning subconscious association games.) Sussing out all of Baskin’s references and influences is kind of a delight, mostly because Evrenol doesn’t call on just one single source for inspiration. He’s a guy who loves movies instead of just one movie, and who loves directors instead of just one director.
What he likes less is clarity. Baskin is a roundly unhinged film. Maybe Evrenol is a fully hinged person, but figuring out what, exactly, is happening in his movie is a fool’s errand. Where does reality begin and surreality end? “Not everything has a clear answer,” Remzi says to Arda during one of the film’s dream sequences, as they sit in a cafe and trade personal fears among themselves. That line is essential to understanding the film, such as the film can actually be understood. How much of what we see on the screen in Baskin is actually happening? How much of it is spun from the characters’ memories and emotional phantasms? Is there any hope of untangling this genre movie Möbius strip?
That last question is easy to answer: Not even a little. But if you’re trying to yank logic out of the film, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t watch Baskin in the spirit of forcing Evrenol’s story to make sense. Watch it in the spirit of letting his horrific vision sweep over you however it may.
Director: Can Evrenol
Writer: Can Evrenol, Ogulcan Eren Akay, Cem Ozuduru, Ercin Sadikoglu
Starring: Gorkem Kasal, Sabahattin Yakut, Fatih Dokgöz, Muharrem Bayrak, Ergun Kuyucu
Release Date: March 25, 2016
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine and Birth. Movies.Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.