Thursday, September 8, 2016

BASKIN (2015)

Apparently the Republic of Turkey is not yet so far gone in Islamic fundamentalism that it won't tolerate a film like Baskin, though writer-director Can Evrenol says he worried sometimes about authorities possibly taking offense at what his crew was shooting. Still, his film received a modest release in its homeland earlier this year after working the festival circuits around the world. It's a derivative movie, almost inevitably, but it's an interesting mix of influences. It's too bad it doesn't entirely follow through on the potential, but it's still a bit of dark fun.

Your high concept here is what if a bunch of tough, ball-busting -- in fact Scorsesean cops have to deal with demonic horrors and torture in a haunted house. Our five police protagonists are so Scorsesean that they do a variation of the "You're a funny guy!" scene from Goodfellas in a diner, taunting a waiter who dared laugh at the dirty jokes they tell each other. Conservative Muslims might well flinch at their humor, including one cop's assertion that 70% of Turkish men have their first sexual encounter with an animal, but my impression is that there are still plenty of secular Turks who would laugh at this claim.

Anyway, the cops are called to some podunk place called Inceagac, where the people are strange and the frogs are on the march. Some of their buddies were called earlier to an old Ottoman-era police station where, more or less literally, all hell has broken loose. Some sort of cult of filthy fetishistic degenerates hold rituals there with human victims. They worship some pretentious dwarf called Baba who encourages the quickly-captured cops to open their hearts and embrace the horrors they see. For example, one officer is urged to hump some apparently-willing hag wearing a cattle skull, but Baba can tell the man isn't really feeling it. If you can't open your heart, then you have to be disemboweled or have your throat cut. This culling process leaves a Final Cop who has had visions and flashbacks throughout the picture. Now, as his last buddy is getting his throat slit, he has a vision in which that buddy invites him to fetch the key to survival -- an actual key that fits a keyhole in Baba's head -- out of his slit throat. Cue a final cathartic bloodbath as our surviving hero avenges his buddies, but victory in horror films is often short-lived, and our hero soon has reason to suspect that rejecting Baba's offer of transcendence cost him his only chance at escaping a vicious circle hinted at earlier in the picture.

What disappointed me about Baskin was the failure to maintain that Scorsesean attitude, to at least talk the talk, through the entire movie. Once confronted with the horrors in the haunted house, the film's cops are pretty much reduced to screaming and whimpering, but for all I know that may have been the point of the exercise, or a point, for Evrenol: the humbling of thuggish men by an immeasurably higher order of thuggery. Where Baskin really excels is its portrait of human degeneration. Whether or not Baba's domain is Hell itself, as is widely assumed, it reaches a repulsively sensual level of abject dehumanization without a lot of makeup or any CGI that's more horrific than any special effect can be. You don't really see a lot of faces here. which suggests a disturbing loss of individuality in this rutting host that craves nothing more than Baba's fleeting touch. Confronted with evil on this scale, the cops look not only petty, as they were in the diner, but puny, which may have been the truth behind their pettiness. That juxtaposition keeps Baskin interesting even when you can't entirely follow the implicit metaphysics of the cops' ordeal. I'm not sure whether there's anything distinctively Turkish, much less Muslim, about it, but I still appreciate seeing such an outbreak of grotesque horror in an unexpected quarter of the wild world of cinema.

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