The Turkish horror film Baskin knows how to craft a disturbing image & a depraved scenario, but is that enough of a foundation for an entire feature film? Without much of a story to tell the production winds up feeling like an HD home video of a trip to a haunted house, not at all like a narrative feature. This problem is further compounded when you’re forced to carpool to said haunted house with a gang of overgrown dude bro bully cops. The five interchangeable police officers who are tortured & destroyed by Baskin’s haunted house creations aren’t necessarily portrayed as sympathetic. In fact, they’re quite despicably abusive. However, after long enough exposure to their shitty macho jokes about bestiality & trans sex workers the film starts to take on the same one-of-the-guys locker room vibes that sunk the similarly visually-promising Witchin’ & Bitchin’. The characters are just as repugnant as they are uninteresting, but the film seems to think hanging out with them is enough of a narrative lead-up for a trip to a haunted house full of Hellish freaks when the truth is it makes the whole enterprise feel like a waste of time. There’s nothing accomplished in Baskin that couldn’t be conveyed in a still image, which is a huge problem.
The cocktail napkin plot sends the cops on a call to a remote, out of the city area, where they encounter some demonic, Event Horizon type shit, essentially entering the gates of Hell by careless mistake. The vile imagery of their Hell on Earth experience can range from beautiful (including a heavenly shot of God-sized hands plunging into water to save a drowning man, recalling the German Expressionist horror The Hands of Orlac) to despicable (eye-gouging & rape). The film tries to tack on a meaning in the depravity with some kind of Martyrs-esque philosophy about the spiritual transcendence of extreme pain, but it’s all very vague & never registers as anything more than aimlessly grotesque. Baskin is obviously proud of the demons & demonic lairs it built for the production by hand & those details indeed look great, but I get the feeling they’d be better experienced at a GWAR concert or an off-the-highway, Halloween season attraction in a warehouse. There’s not enough narrative or tonal effort here to justify a feature length film experience.
That’s not to say that the film can’t be scary. Baskin finds terror in simple, straightforward imagery. Its stark lighting & disembodied hands call back to the best of the giallo genre. Its flashlight-driven haunted house aesthetic reminds me of long gone teenage years of “urban exploring” in locations like abandoned pools & hospitals. There’s some interesting dialogue in the last act about how “you can carry Hell with you at all times; you can carry it inside you” and the film’s overall conceit about literally entering Hell opens it up to some sublimely surreal moments. There’s just not enough going on here to make its overall nastiness & cruelty worthwhile. After watching this year’s horror anthology Southbound achieve the same pull-the-rug-from-under-you terror of an unexpected trip to Hell, Baskin fails while reaching for (and without matching its grotesque cruelty for easy discomfort), this film feels more than a little useless.
There’s enough imagery in Baskin to promise that first time director Can Evernol might make some truly memorable horror pictures down the line, but that imagery is much better enjoyed as a scroll through Google image search results than as a painful 100 minute struggle through toxic bully personalities, dead still pacing, and demonic sexual assault. And if he never masters the craft of cinema, he at least has a future in the seasonal work of constructing haunted houses. Baskin isn’t successful as a feature film, but it’d make for a killer resume for that line of work.