Baskin Dir. Can Evrenol

[IFC Films; 2016]

Styles: horror
Others: Hellraiser, Demons 2, The Hit List, The House Of A 1000 Corpses

What is your concept of Hell? A lake of fire? Just putting up with other people as Sartre suggests in No Exit? Or perhaps Hell is within us all and travels within us wherever we go, as Milton writes in Paradise Lost? From Hieronymus Bosch to Clive Barker and all the artists in between, there have been an untold number of depictions of the dark side of the afterlife. But perhaps the scariest version is whatever lurks in our own minds; whatever it is that truly terrifies us, whatever activity that produces that most toxic of fears, prolonged for eternity. Turkish film Baskin from director Can Evrenol has its own version of hellish delights, but it also subscribes to the Miltonian idea that we carry it within us at all times. While the film never reaches the lofty goals that such a concept suggests, it does provide some excellent imagery, nightmarish sequences, and a batshit finale that almost makes up for some of the tedium in the early going.

The film begins with five cops hanging out one night when they get a call to help out at a house located in a remote location (“baskin” is Turkish for “raid”). When they arrive they find an abandoned house, but soon discover much more than they ever wanted or feared as they descend into the depths of a madness saved for fire & brimstone sermons. Baskin squanders too much time in this preamble before getting to the house, which makes half this movie a bit of a chore despite its atmospherics. The problem is that this is time ostensibly spent getting to know the characters, but we don’t really learn much about them; and what we do is fairly repellent or simply uninteresting.

There is a nice bit (probably a nod to Almost Famous’s “Tiny Dancer” scene) in which the van full of cops sing along to a pop song together, instilling a sense of camaraderie amongst them. Yet it’s not until some dream sequences later that the film reveals some of the relationships within the small group. The build up feels like treading water, albeit with an occasional attempt to spook, but mostly it’s just delaying the inevitable descent into bloody madness that is surely on the way.

Once insce the house, the denizens of hell/cult members reveal themselves, and Evrenol really gets a chance to play with some disturbing imagery of blind, bloody, mud-covered people acting like rabid dogs as they swarming about like a diseased hivemind. Nevertheless, the entire section is stolen by the introduction of The Father, played by Mehmet Cerrahoglu. Cerrahoglu suffers from a rare skin condition which gives his appearance an otherworldly and frankly disturbing vibe that increases the menace while he delivers cryptic and poetic lines about hell and suffering that would easily fit in the mouth of a Cenobite or a William Blake poem. Once The Father shows up, Baskin turns nasty to the remaining survivors and really plays up its well-handled surrealist aspects, which are skin-crawlingly effective in the most depraved way — so much so that viewers will undoubedly wish he had been introduced earlier and that the buildup to his introduction hadn’t taken so long.

Baskin isn’t a bad film, but it is an improperly paced one without enough character development. The entire third act is gonzo and original (while being hauntingly familiar of what people see in the shadows when they are most frightened), with a vision of hell that is one of chaos, ruination, and ultimately bloody sacrifices and arcane rituals. Cerrahoglu’s performance almost makes it worth the price of admission by itself, as he exudes a calm terror of someone either completely insane or so in his right mind that the maelstrom around him seems perfectly normal. But the lack of a central character to focus on (until halfway through the film), and the deliberately slow beginning makes it a bit of work to get through. It’d be interesting to see what Evrenol does next, as he shows real command of tone and imbuing menace into the simplest of shots.

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