Like many of the movies I’ll be discussing, Can Evrenol’s 2015 Baskin kept peering at me in a sea of selections on Netflix that looked good, but that caused decision freeze on the question of whether I needed to invest time in this story. It’s a rare thing for me to see a Turkish horror movie; the only time I had seen one previously was Seytan, the unintentionally comic remake of The Exorcist.
A jaded horror fan rarely experiences fear anymore, but they can experience profound distress. I was left so disturbed and revolted that I question whether or not I needed this in my life.
In other words: a job well done!
Director: Can Evrenol
Writers: Ogulcan Eren Akay, Can Evrenol, Ercin Sadikoglu, Cem Özüduru
Notable Cast: Mehmet Cerrahoglu, Görkem Kasal, Ergun Kuyucu, Muharrem Bayrak, Fatih Dokgöz. Sabahattin Yakut
Plot: While taking a break, a unit of cops receive a distress call over the radio. Directed to an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere, they soon find themselves trapped in a surreal and nightmarish world. (source: Google)
Commentary: Baskin is excellent. Its actors were terrific, and I want to note performances by Gorkem Kasal as the rookie cop Arda, whose childhood nightmare (depicted in a set of cryptic flashbacks) is central to the story; Muharrem Bayrak as the angry, authority-abusing squad leader Yavuz; and most emphatically, Mehmet Cerrahoglu as “Baba.” More about that disturbing creature to come, but Cerrahoglu showcases some world-class acting talent. There are some who would challenge and oppose the use of actors with physical disabilities (Cerrahoglu has a skin condition.) I’m here to say there was no exploitation, and that the actor belongs on any stage in the world in any and all leading roles.
Baskin is also profoundly disturbing. What the summary above fails to tell you is that the “nightmarish world” the unit of police officers come across involves a time loop of some sort of satanic orgy, presided over by Baba (father in Turkish), in a supposed ante-chamber to Hell. There’s nothing remotely sexy or risqué about said orgy. It takes place in a dirty grimy dungeon. There is flesh hanging on hooks and in chains everywhere, some of it alive and some of it not alive. The participants are poorly lit, hooded, feral inhuman creatures that speak in shrieks and grunts. You can barely get a glimpse of their bodies beyond what appears to be burnt red flesh. But their actions, including some bizarre mockery of human conception and birth, are simply revolting.
Nothing is technically explicit – there’s more gore in a standard American torture porn movie – but what’s seen and implied is disgusting. Some people wonder what kind of damage makers of extreme horror have to make them want to put these types of things on-screen. I don’t (I rarely do to be honest) because Evrenol is a skilled storyteller with something to say. Baskin is disturbing but never shocking or gratuitous for its own sake.
What We’re Afraid Of: Baskin seems tough to decode, and I’m sure that in my case, that’s due to cultural and language barriers. However, these two interviews with Evrenol shed some light on some of the disparate elements that give meaning to the movie.
I know that I feared the character of Yavuz the minute he began his crass tale of paying for a prostitute’s time and then discovering the prostitute was biologically male. I could see where that character would take such an encounter. Then, Yavuz threatens and bullies the teenaged son of the shop owner for a perceived slight that wasn’t there. In interviews, Evrenol has noted how audiences in different countries react to his character.
In the United States, there’s an illusion of due process and citizens’ rights. People in other nations know only too well what a small, insecure, ill-tempered person can do when granted the authority of a police officer. Your life could end up destroyed.
“Hell is within us,” the character of Baba states to the captive cops. This nightmare seems to be Arda’s hell. It could be Freudian rooted, as his childhood nightmare featured the sounds of his mother having sex and a hidden monster in his bedroom. He also relates a recurring dream of his friend who committed suicide. If Arda is alive and this is all his bizarre fever dream, or he’s dead and it’s all the illusions generated by the dying neurons in his brain, he’s stuck in a horrible loop a la John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness and these things are feeding it.
Barbecue, for some reason, features extensively in the film’s iconography. In the preview, where the police officers are eating at a small family-owned restaurant, many scenes feature meat being carried to a grill, and the camera focuses on shots of cooking meat. As mentioned before, the chambers where the ceremony takes place has plenty of flesh (human?) hanging on hooks. Are we looking at the Turkish response to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
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