Monstrous action figures, a toy police car, video game controllers, a puerile drawing of an armed cop under attack from dark creatures. After slowly panning over this collection of childish things, each one foreshadowing key elements in the film to come, the camera settles on a little boy in bed, just woken by the sounds of passionate moaning coming from his mother’s room down the corridor. In the otherwise empty living room the boy finds the television turned on and static-covered (Poltergeist-style). He then knocks, in terrified desperation, on his mother’s locked bedroom door as a bloody hand reaches with beckoning menace, towards him.
The pre-title sequence from Can Evrenol’s feature debut Baskin first presents itself, rather precisely, as a ‘primal scene’, showing the irrational confrontation between a child and an adult sexuality that he cannot yet fully comprehend; yet that distinctly Freudian scenario quickly gives way to a claustrophobic sense of approaching dread – dread of darkness, and of death.
Once introduced, this sense of dread in Baskin never leaves. We feel it in the first post-title sequence: in the night, a long, slow handheld shot glides along, first towards a police van parked outside a country diner, and then – impossibly – through the vehicle’s closed rear door to a photo of five cops that hangs over the dashboard. The policemen themselves are seated in the diner, four engaged in cocky braggadocio about their more transgressive sexual experiences, while the fifth (Sabahattin Yakut) struggles with a headache that is getting worse by the minute. Evrenol, however, keeps cutting away from this naturalistic set-up to portentous shots of meat – meat being delivered in a bucket to the diner’s backdoor by a hooded figure, meat being sliced up in the kitchen by the chef, meat cooking on the barbecue outside. Carnality, and the fragility of flesh, are what is on display here – and if the cops’ saucy dialogue, as coarse as it is casual, comes with a decidedly Tarantino-esque quality, it will also prove integral to what follows, with increasingly uncanny and alarming payoffs.
The sequence from the beginning of Baskin will turn out to be a dream that the youngest of the cops, Arda (Gorkem Kasal), has been having since his childhood – and the outstretched hand from that dream will keep recurring within the film’s fluid reality, even as Arda and the others make repeated references to their own childhoods, and to car accidents. Soon, after answering a call for backup from another police unit in rural Inceagac and having some very strange encounters on the road, the five will have an accident of their own, and end up in an abandoned building (a former police station) facing unspeakable horrors and butchery in the dark.
“Where am I? What am I doing? I’m all dizzy. Don’t understand.” These words from Arda reflect the disorientation that Baskin also induces in the viewer. The narrative keeps looping back on itself, returning to earlier scenes, themes and locations while (sub)merging dreams to reality and past to present in an uncannily circular fashion that will leave you feeling both lost and trapped in its infernally Moebean construction. Only the later scenes in that abandoned building (festooned with meat) bear any resemblance to the cop-on-cultist pandemonium found in the short film Baskin that Evrenol made in 2013. For it is in this nightmarish underworld that the intrigues and tensions that have been so carefully built in the film’s first half can now emerge from the shadows in full gory, grotesque form, with extraordinary newcomer Mehmet Cerrahoglu presiding over all the cruelty and carnage. Yet amidst this perverse depravity, the mystery (and it’s a very ancient mystery, worshipped at the twin altars of eros and thanatos) remains in place, ultimately to be unlocked less in the gut(s) than in the head.
A heady blend of Ambrose Bierce and Herk Hervey, of Lucio Fulci and David Lynch, and of Nicolas Winding Refn and Dario Argento (these last two channeled through director of photography Alp Korfali’s hyperreal lighting), Baskin is an astonishingly assured debut. Driven offroad by Ulas Pakkan’s unnerving ’80s synth score, it is a surreal, uncompromising, bestial and eerily beautiful descent into a hell of self-knowledge, whose precise entry and exit points remain difficult to determine. The title, Turkish for ‘raid’, has been left untranslated for its international release to avoid confusion with the cult action films of Gareth Evans – but even if it is not, despite what some unsuspecting viewers may believe, named for a certain popular brand of ice cream, Evrenol’s film sure is one haunting Turkish delight.
Baskin is released in the UK on June 24