Whatever you think about the surrealist grotesquerie of Can Evrenol’s festival smash Baskin, what can’t be disputed is that it’s an incredibly assured feature debut. Expanded from a short Evrenol wrote and shot in 2013, what begins as a carefully-paced and sharply written Turkish character drama soon takes a very literal descent into Hell. The result is a genuinely disturbing and unique bloodbath: a poetic, savage and uncompromising collision of the arthouse and the brutal, filtered through a lens of unapologetically dark spiritualism.
Baskin‘s main characters don’t do much to endear themselves in the film’s first half. Joining a group of five cops working the nightshift, they’re mostly painted broadly as pretty vile individuals: violence is doled out against a cafe owner for the slightest indiscretion, and most of their number come off pretty unsympathetically. The exception is Arda (Gorkem Kasal), a new recruit with a surrogate father-son relationship with veteran Boss Remzi (Ergun Kuyucu). Their conversations give the most insight into what’s to come, at least in as much as their anecdotes of death and the afterlife amp up the tension essential to Evrenol’s wider vision. The pacing of Baskin is knowingly sluggish at this point: the director’s tendency towards the obliquely ominous can’t be tied to individual moments or shots, but the overarching feeling of dread is very real.
Soon, they’re called as backup to an emergency occurring in the nearby town of Inceagac. On the way, Seyfi (Sabahattin Yakut), apparently plagued with a terrifying vision, drives their van into a river, and they stumble from the crash and make their way to a seemingly abandoned building where, unbeknownst to them, a black mass is taking place. It’s at this point Baskin abruptly but organically changes gears, and where opinion is most likely to split.
Laden with grotesque imagery, the concluding third of Baskin is as uncomfortable viewing as you’re likely to find in any film this year, and without getting tied up in spoiler-heavy analysis, your opinion on the horrors visited on the characters may well hinge on your interpretation of what’s come before.What’s undeniable, though, is the fact that the film’s unrelenting, giallo-lit final half hour is anchored by a genuinely remarkable performance from Mehmet Cerrahoglu. Making his acting debut as Father, he inhabits the role of the ringleader of the tormentors in truly unnerving style. Whatever your opinion on the narrative merits of Baskin‘s deep-diving unpleasantness, Evrenol has emerged here with one of the year’s most challenging horrors. The craft, be it in performance, writing or direction, is visible in plain sight. Whatever its shortcomings – and it isn’t perfect – as an artfully constructed debut and a bracingly visceral experience, it takes some beating.