'Baskin': TIFF Review

Baskin - H 2015
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Fasten your entrails; it's going to be a bumpy night.

Turkish horror director Can Evrenol signed with WME on the eve of the Toronto Film Festival, where this gore-soaked debut was picked up by IFC Midnight.

The graveyard shift is hell for the five cops in Can Evrenol's first feature, Baskin, expanded from his 2013 short film, which represents a rare horror entry from Turkey, a country not known for genre production. While an ancient key is extracted from one character's slit throat late in the game, a key to the arcane story remains more stubbornly elusive. However, gore fans hungering for an old-fashioned orgiastic Black Mass will groove on the movie's grounding in the gruesome universes of Clive Barker, John Carpenter and Dario Argento. And who doesn't love seeing a credit for "tarantula wrangler?"

Despite four credited screenwriters, including Evrenol, the mysteriously titled Baskin is thin on story, instead lurching in and out of a woozy dreamscape before arriving at its extended terror and torture set piece in the bowels of an abandoned former police station supposedly dating back to Ottoman times.

The nightmare kicks off with a prologue in which young rookie cop Arda (Gorkem Kasal) is seen as a child having his first experience of a recurring dream that will haunt him into adulthood. Disturbed by the sounds of his mother having sex in her bedroom down the hall, he wanders the house in a suspended state between waking and sleep. He realizes he's not alone when a bloody hand attached to an unseen entity reaches for him.

Cut to a grimy diner serving dodgy meat delivered in a bucket by a druidlike figure in a hooded jute coat. Arda and his fellow night-shift cops — including police Chief Remzi (Ergun Kuyucu), who was appointed his guardian after the death of his parents — banter about soccer and sexual conquests until hothead Yavuz (Muharrem Bayrak) picks a fight with the waiter. One of the cops is taken ill, momentarily losing his wits while yacking up his dinner, but they shake it off and hit the road.

They respond to a call for backup at a possible crime scene in the middle of nowhere, but the journey is interrupted by the blur of a naked man dashing across the road and a collision with an unidentified creature that sends them careening into a creek. Plaguelike quantities of frogs, a radio and phone outage, a cluster of creepy gypsies and unexplained markings scratched into the paintwork of their van help knock some of the macho swagger out of them. When they get to the scene on foot, they find another cop car abandoned and, initially, no sign of the other officers.

Cutting back and forth between the scene of their investigation and the restaurant in a time-shuffling haze, Evrenol blurs the lines between nightmare and reality as Arda and Remzi discuss the long arm of death. There's a suggestion that this all may be part of some hellish vision in which Arda remains trapped.

But back in the wilderness, the first sign of a dazed cop banging his head against the wall is just a mild foretaste of what's to come in the labyrinthine underground chambers peopled with subhuman, cannibalistic freaks. Presiding over their sacrificial rituals is a sinewy human toad known as The Father (Mehmet Cerrahoglu), who looks like French actor Dominique Pinon on a very bad day and has a talent for imaginative bloodletting. Some of his meaty handiwork hangs on strings throughout the building, like a bizarre Martha Stewart carnage craft project.

Working with cinematographer Alp Korfali and production designer Sila Karakaya, Evrenol creates a densely soupy chiaroscuro visual field high on mood and atmospherics, amping up the dread with big-ass synth scoring by techno duo Ulas Pakkan and Volkan Akaalp, billed as JF. The textured look makes terrific use of unnerving tight close-ups on skin, hair, cloth and such details as the chief's fingers working overtime on his worry beads.

If their abrasive behavior in the early scenes doesn't invite much sympathy for the doomed cops, watching one of them get blinded and then forced to sodomize a goat-headed woman seems punishment enough. Oops, spoiler. That scene is also typical of a movie that offers little in the way of narrative involvement or scares but doesn't stint on sustained, stylized revulsion. While IFC Midnight no doubt will reach a few horror fanboys with a high tolerance for occult nonsense, the film will serve mainly to secure future genre assignments for Evrenol.

Production companies: Mo Film, in association with XYZ Films
Cast: Gorkem Kasal, Ergun Kuyucu, Mehmet Cerrahoglu, Sabahattin Yakut, Mehmet Fatih Dokgoz, Muharrem Bayrak
Director: Can Evrenol
Screenwriters: Can Evrenol, Ercin Sadikoglu, Cem Ozuduru, Ogulcan Eren Akay
Executive producers: Todd Brown, Mike Hostench, Muge Buyuktalas
Director of photography: Alp Korfali
Production designer: Sila Karakaya
Costume designer: Sinan Saracoglu
Music: JF (Ulas Pakkan, Volkan Akaalp)
Editor: Erkan Ozekan
Casting: Fazli Korkmaz
Sales: The Salt Co.

No rating, 97 minutes.