Toronto Film Review: ‘Baskin’

Despite its curiosity value, this rare Turkish horror film becomes a muddle of repetitious phantasmagoria.

Baskin TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF

Several hardened cops patrolling a rural area find they’ve stumbled into H-E-double-hockey-sticks in “Baskin.” Of interest as a rare modern Turkish horror film, Can Evrenol’s debut feature will be a must-see for fans at fantasy fests, but its initial promise dissipates in a muddle of repetitious phantasmagoria and too little narrative or character development. Curiosity value should power niche home-format sales overseas, with IFC Midnight claiming U.S. distrib rights at Toronto. Whether pic will overcome supposed local distaste toward such fare in imminent home-turf release is another matter.

Five policemen protags are having a loud dinner at a roadside eater at the start, trading boasts and ribbing less-jaded newbie Arda (Gorkem Kasal), an orphan under the guardianship of Chief Remzi (Ergun Kuyucu). The first sign that things are a bit off hereabouts comes when one of their number, already nervous and dour for no known reason, becomes violently ill. Then bullying braggart Yavuz (Muharrem Bayrak) decides to pick a fight with the inoffensive waiter, inviting a smackdown of his own from cruel fate.

Beating a retreat, the lawmen (apparent urbanites whose assignment to this unfamiliar backwater goes unexplained) answer a distress call from a nearby town about which disquieting vague “stories” circulate. After a spell being lost, colliding with a figure in the road, and an encounter with a weird gypsy-like clan of frog hunters, their van arrives at a seemingly empty onetime police precinct station, where another squad car is already parked outside. Its occupants are nowhere to be seen, but the cops do uncover some nasty other things — for instance, a wee pile of eyeballs.

Eventually they all find themselves in a subterranean labyrinth where “The Father,” a dungeonmaster of sorts (Mehmet Cerrahoglu, an offscreen parking attendant who in his acting debut resembles a pint-sized version of “The Hills Have Eyes'” Michael Berryman), presides over writhing, sackcloth-draped slaveys. This is Hell, apparently, though just what our protagonists did to deserve it goes mostly unaddressed. Also, since one assumes they may already be dead, their rather hasty, unmemorable if unpleasant re-killings at the hands of “Father” seem kinda redundant.

There are myriad reference checkpoints for horror fans, spanning everything from “Hellraiser” to Coffin Joe movies, while recurrent scenes back at the diner portend an all-too-familiar final revelation. There’s also plenty of blood, gore, and perversity — mostly of the whips-‘n’-chains variety, but cannibalism gets in there, too. Still, “Baskin” becomes something of a monotonous dirge. Diverting to an extent, the film’s horrors aren’t shocking or distinctive enough, its surreal atmospherics not quite strong enough to cover for the sketchy script.

Perfs are adequate, albeit hemmed in by one-dimensional characters, while design aspects are resourceful if derivative. Tech contribs are pro. A hardworking, retro 1980s score applied wall-to-wall tries to maintain tension even as the film devolves into the kind of nightmare one wants to wake up from not so much because it’s terrifying, but because it’s grown tedious.

Toronto Film Review: ‘Baskin’

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 13, 2015. Running time: <strong>97 MIN</strong>.

  • Production: (Turkey) An MO Film Produksiyon Ltd. production in association with XYZ Films. (World sales: The Salt Co., London.) Executive producers, Muge Buyuktalas, Todd Brown, Mike Hostench.
  • Crew: Directed by Can Evrenol. Screenplay, Evrenol, Ercin Sadlikoglu, Cem Ozuduru, Ogulcan Eren Akay. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Alp Korfali; editor, Erkan Ozekan; music, JF (Ulas Pakkan, Volkan Akaalp); production designer, Sila Karakaya; costume designer, Sinan Saracoglu; sound mixer, Samet Kilic; sound designer, Mustafa Durma; 1st assistant director, Macide Erkilavuz; casting, Fazil Kokmaz.
  • With: Gorkem Kasal, Ergun Kuyucu, Mehmet Cerrahoglu, Sabahattin Yakut, Mehmet Fatih Dokgoz, Muharrem Bayrak.