Baskin (Turkish for “police raid”) is equal parts surreal arthouse thriller and grisly splatterfest
Baskin has just arrived on Netflix. This is one of those much buzzed about independent foreign films I’ve been meaning to see for some time, and I was eager to finally see what all the hype was about. This 2015 Turkish horror film marks the feature film directorial debut of Can Evrenol, and is based on his successful 2013 short film by the same name.
This is a film that manages to be equal parts surreal arthouse thriller and grisly splatterfest, effortlessly blending genres and styles to create a mind-bending cinematic experience that is at once oddly familiar and yet distinctly original.
On Rotten Tomatoes, this film currently has a 74% rating from critics, and a diametrically opposed 47% rating from users; That’s typically what happens with this kind of artsy, cerebral horror that seduces critics while strongly dividing audiences. That means you’re likely to either really love or hate this film, depending on your tolerance for horror films that tread fairly far off the beaten path.
Baskin opens with a beautifully chilling dream sequence — a young boy’s recurring nightmare and a creepy supernatural encounter. The scene does a great job serving as a harbinger for darker things to come, while establishing the surreal nested-plot narrative structure for the film. It’s a brilliant introduction to a film that consistently blurs the line between hallucination and reality, creating a disorientation that makes it hard to know what’s real or imagined.
From there, we get a rather thin plot involving a group of seasoned Turkish police officers and a young rookie cop named Arda (Gorkem Kasal), who serves as the main protagonist. The officers get called to a nearby crime scene, answering a distress call from another unit that leads them to an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere. But beyond that, Baskin is not really narrative-driven.
Instead, what we have is an intricately woven and heavily layered surrealist horror that starts off as a taut psychological thriller before rapidly morphing into pure, nightmarish horror. The first half of the film — with its hyper-rich color palette, pulsating soundtrack, and impressionistic imagery — is reminiscent of Dario Argento’s stylish and macabre thrillers. However, even when the film enters Hostel territory in the latter half of the movie, there is sophistication and elegance to the storytelling that elevates it above mere torture porn.
Throughout this movie, I was repeatedly reminded of other horror films…but that’s not intended as a criticism. Evrenol is a filmmaker who clearly celebrates his genre inspirations without becoming derivative.
When the officers finally reach the basement of the decrepit building to become unwilling participants in an unholy black mass, the film resonates loudly with echoes of Hellraiser — a powerful blend of chilling atmosphere and sheer visceral horror combined with the deeply symbolic imagery and thought provoking dialogue.
First-time actor Mehmet Cerrahoglu gives a noteworthy performance as the villain, The Father. As the leader of the Satanic cult, Cerrahoglu channels Clive Barker’s Pinhead with his metaphor-laden speech and low-key menacing line delivery. “Hell is not a place you go,” he calmly explains to the doomed officers. “You carry hell with you at all times. You carry it inside you. We are your humble companions on the road fate chose for you.”
Baskin won’t be everybody. It’s beautifully made and highly imaginative, but those who prefer a more linear and narrative-driven plot may find the trippy dream-within-a-dream framework unsettling. Hardcore gore hounds should delight in the second half of the film, but may become impatient waiting for all hell to break loose. Likewise, those who appreciate the slow building tension and refined savoir faire of the first half may find the hard right turn into brutal horror too much to stomach.
The bottom line is that this film is inconsistent, disjointed and disorienting. And yet, that’s part of its significant charm. This is anything but a “by the numbers” genre film. It’s strange and beautiful, messy and mesmerizing. It’s the kind of film that stays with you long after the final scene.
If you have a taste for genre-bending, highly unique arthouse horror, Baskin is definitely a film that should be at the top of your watch list.