PLOT: When a squadron of Turkish police officers unwittingly stumble upon an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere, they witness a ceremonial black mass that opens a portal to hell.
REVIEW: It's not terribly often you see a competently crafted movie come out of the country of Turkey, neither technically nor diegetically. Yet following a large handful of short films, native son Can Evrenol triumphantly solves half of the equation with his debut feature BASKIN, an unadulterated bastion of bestial barbarity. That is, the films aesthetic and craftsmanship far succeeds its story, and despite doing a nice job of drawing us in from the onset, ultimately succumbs to the trampled and over-tilled ground of gruesome horror convention. With obvious homage to Fulci and the rich history of Italian splatter fare - exorbitant violence and radiant color schemes - in the end, BASKIN is less admirable for its final result than for where it was made and with what little resources. So while there's certainly a lot left to be desired by the time the credits roll, there's no doubt Evrenol is a filmmaking talent to keep a close eye on moving forward. Unfortunately, this isn't quite the one to bask in!
Opening the film is a flashback to a dream our protagonist Yavuz (Muharrem Bayrak) had as a child. Redolent of POLTERGEIST, a static TV set hypnotizes Yavuz in the dark, an ominous hold of which carries on with him through adulthood. Cut to the present, Yavuz is now a police officer making regular patrolling rounds in the neighborhood he grew up in. His friends and partners share odious tales of bestiality and the necessity to, as a horny kid, fornicate with farm animals when very few other humans are around. Hell, one dude even admits to f*cking an elephant! Yavuz is mildly amused, at least until he tells one of his fellow coppers the dream he had as a kid. The cop not only warns that he's experience something similar, but that such was not a dream at all, but an ancient force of evil that has been lurking in the dark recesses of Turkey for ages. Yavuz grows more unsettled, and in his quest to find answers, is summoned to a mysterious woodland road that leads to an oddly disheveled building in the middle of nowhere. What the hell gives?
Turns out exactly that, Hell. A deeply creepy, puffed-up frog-faced dude appears - whose malevolent presence I can only think to compare to Robert Blake in LOST HIGHWAY - and begins explaining his true nature and that of Yavuz. I won't spoil too much here, but suffice it to say a ritualized Black Mass ensues that unleashes a hellish underworld of violent bestiality-based terror. Yavuz is not only caught in the middle, but so too is his fellow officers, which leads to a pretty vicious and malicious but ultimately derivative showdown among all involved. The carnage is legit, no doubt, but because the animalistic nature established early on isn't taken to gnarly enough heights, tends to blend in, not stick out, from the legion of horror contemporaries it wants to differentiate from. Even as an homage to 70s and 80s Italian gore-fests, the shock value promised early on fails to deliver in the end. What we're left with is an intriguing setup, a pretty stodgy middle-piece, and not quite a nasty enough finale to equate with the ideas put forth in the beginning. Makes sense I suppose, since the film was adapted from a short-film of the same name made back in 2013. Like most of its ilk, the story beats needed to go from short to feature aren't quite fleshed out enough to comprise a satisfying whole.
That said, there are some laudable merits to the films craft worthy of mention. The score, cinematography and acting are all very good here, and until the story sort of fizzles, really carries the movie for a long stretch. It's here where the film revels in the stylings of Italian horror of yore - cool but eerie musical cues, gorgeous color palates, extreme stints of violence, etc. If these are things you covet most in a horror flick, you'll probably be sated by such in BASKIN. If you're the kind who needs a more compelling, cogently told tale to accompany the disturbing visuals, perhaps you won't be, at least not as much. I for one land in the latter camp, and as a result, can extol the film less for its overall point or grand message than I can in the recognition of Evrenol as a talented filmmaker to watch in the future. The truth is we need more Middle Eastern horror movies as antidote to the real life violence in the region, and if for no other reason, BASKIN is a step in the right direction in that regard.
To put a lid on it, BASKIN is a better made movie than it is told. After an engrossing opener to capture the imagination, too many downturns and repetitive horror tenets are unveiled that detract from the intriguing freshness of the opening. The film is shot well, acted believably and features an unnerving musical score and bouts of violence that are sure to impress some. But when all is said and done, it's hard to come away from the film with anything other than the assurance that director Can Evrenol has a great movie in him somewhere. BASKIN isn't quite it, but damn if we can't wait to be there when it eventually materializes. So while it's admirable and encouraging in many respects, the overall experience lies a bit too fallow to fulfill all your filmgoing needs.