Directed by: Can Evrenol || Produced by: Tolga Erener, Sina Rasim Pekcanatti
Screenplay by: Can Evrenol, Cem Özüduru, Erçin Sadıkoğlu, Eren Akay || Starring: Mehmet Cerrahoğlu, Ergun Kuyucu, Gorkem Kasal, Muharrem Bayrak
Music by: Ulas Pakkan, Volkan Akaalp || Cinematography: Alp Korfali || Edited by: Erkan Özekan || Country: Turkey || Language: Turkish
Running Time: 97 minutes
For reasons I don’t understand, I went on a miniature binge of infamous films deemed “extreme,” “intense,” or said to be filled with incredibly explicit content last week, perhaps out of sheer curiosity or as yet another way to test my cinephile endurance. I conducted a similar brief experiment of quasi-extreme cinema a couple years ago when I first sampled Takashi Miike’s filmography (try Audition  or Ichi the Killer  to see what I mean), and found myself more desensitized to hardcore international cinema than I had anticipated; maybe all those puritans decrying extreme violence in the arts were right after all! I mean, after watching all that violent content, my first action was to… watch more movies.
In all seriousness, my sole rule with this recent binge of alleged extreme cinema was the same as my initial forays into other movements or subgenres of film: I had to be interested in each film’s premise or storytelling techniques regardless of their content. Films whose most — or rather, sole — distinctive feature was their sheer brutality (e.g. Cannibal Holocaust , 120 Days of Sodom , A Serbian Film , etc.) according to most sources never interested me enough to take a dive. Films like Irréversible (2002) and Inside (2007) of the supposed New French Extreme, however, about vigilantism told in reverse chronological order and a female assailant who attempts fetal abduction, respectively, offered creative enough premises to beckon.
Similar compliments can be paid to the horror movie Baskin (English: “raid,” or “a violent, downward blow,”), the feature directorial debut of Turkish filmmaker Can Evrenol, which describes the circumstantial misadventures of a group of rural police officers who somehow wander into a plane of Hell. The idea of inferno, the underworld, damnation, etc. as a physical place or a somewhat tangible dimension accessible to mortal characters has long interested me (see also: The Mummy [1999, 2001], Event Horizon ), so a film in that vein produced by a national cinematic culture largely unfamiliar to me (Turkey) caught my attention. What held it for 97 minutes was a combination of effective nighttime cinematography, great production-design, and a memorable, if imperfect nightmare of a third act.
That former attribute, Baskin’s commitment to dark yet detailed photography at night — the film’s production contained no day-shoots — is perhaps its most notable, even more so than its diverse practical FX and gore makeup. Both Baskin’s primary storyline and its flashbacks are dominated by the quiet paranoia of nighttime darkness, even during brighter, low-contrast indoor scenes in the first act. As the story progresses and our characters transition to deserted rural streets, then an abandoned police station that serves as the film’s principal haunted house, the cinematography becomes more and more dependent on extreme low-key (high contrast) setups. What’s most impressive about director of photography Alp Korfali’s command of these lighting techniques, though, is how clear environmental details and character blocking are despite how dark, literally and figuratively, the entire film is. Baskin embraces the night without sacrificing clarity.
In league with Korfali’s effective camerawork is the delicious set-design, both indoors and out. The dilapidated police precinct is the star of the show, utilizing just enough physical embellishments to illustrate a creepy, unsettling crypt that builds tension the farther our principal cast explores its depths. These are my favorite moments of the film, where its characters illuminate the horrific scenery with only their flashlights until they stumble upon Baskin’s Satanic antagonists.
Baskin’s final act is its most controversial, though like other transgressive cinema infamous for their depictions of violence, not quite as interesting as the suspenseful escalation that leads to it. The sequences of torture, debauchery, and occult rituals are briefer and more punctuated than one might expect, but my larger problem is how the film’s pace slows to a crawl during the elongated introduction of Baskin’s primary villain, Mehmet Cerrahoglu. A nonprofessional actor recruited by Evrenol due to his rare skin condition, which gives Cerrahoglu an unforgettable appearance, the former carries the film to its bloody, satisfying conclusion once the rest of the cast grow passive as necessitated by the script. However, our heroes’ near powerlessness throughout 1/3 of the film grows frustrating and repetitive even by horror movie standards, most of all because almost none of them put up a fight prior to their capture despite being armed law enforcement officers.
What saves Baskin from losing narrative energy by the 90-minute mark is that aforementioned conclusion, which finds a middle ground between a tragic, depressing ending where the villains triumph outright and a more cliched happy ending where evil is vanquished. Not all will be satisfied by the specific plot-device used to justify the film’s overarching story structure, but I thought it was established with enough clues throughout the greater narrative without feeling too predictable.
Top to bottom, Baskin is the sort of controversial filmmaking that justifies its explicit content with a good screenplay, cinematographic vision, and effective directorial execution. It won’t convert many naysayers who abhor violence on film and its expansion upon an earlier short film concept does show on occasion, particularly in its third and goriest act. That being said, Can Evrenol’s control of suspense and nighttime visuals are too strong to ignore regardless of how unappetizing some of its content is, so I am forced to conclude once again that a given film’s artistic merit supersedes whatever controversy that content inspires.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Dominated by an oppressive, truly hellish atmosphere and structured with care, Baskin escalates tension to a bloodthirsty crescendo like few other films I’ve seen, horror or otherwise. Its suspenseful pace is on par with better M. Night Shyamalan, while its gore FX feel more effective than any wannabe-grindhouse spectacle James Wan has done, all wrapped within cinematographer Alp Korfali’s memorable storytelling through low-key light.
— However… its overall strong pacing falters in its third act, where we spend half an hour in a single room used for both torture and execution rituals. Our characters forget their diegetic professions at the worst possible moment in order for that last portion of the story to happen.
—> Baskin comes RECOMENDED, gristle, sinew, and all.
? What is it with movie supporting characters’ obsession with transsexual prostitutes?
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