Can Evrenol’s Baskin arrives with the novelty of being a rare horror film from Turkey. There have been others, to be fair, reaching back decades — including 1953’s not entirely awful Dracula in Istanbul and a pretty awful but still strangely fascinating remake of The Exorcist, from 1974, both of which have achieved some well-deserved cult notoriety. In more recent decades, Turkish horror has gotten slicker, though not necessarily good: Most of the entries I’ve seen from the past decade or so have felt like awkward imitations of Western horror flicks with a few culturally unique touches. Baskin is better, but it doesn’t quite break that trend.
The film follows a group of macho cops on night patrol. (Evrenol reportedly shot in and around Istanbul, but the film’s environment seems admirably remote and rural.) When we first see them, they’re sitting in a late-night coffeehouse jawing at each other about screwing chickens, screwing whores, screwing a trans person…basically, they talk a lot about screwing. Their camaraderie is built on friendly confrontation — the kind that can go poisonous in an instant, as it does when one of the cops turns on an odd young waiter and proceeds to beat the kid to a pulp. Evrenol and his cast of mostly unknowns immerse us in the heady, twisted machismo of these men, even as eerie little cutaways — to indistinct pieces of meat on a grill or a tiny frog in a soap dish — help add a gathering sense of otherworldly tension.
So far, so good. And Baskin has one genuinely terrifying scene near its middle, in a kind of dream-vision/projection/flashback (we’re not sure what it is, exactly) that feels like it came straight out of David Lynch’s playbook. It involves two of the cops seemingly having a conversation one dimension removed from the others; suddenly, everyone else around them has vanished, and all that remains is a mysterious cloaked figure somewhere behind them. It’s a chilling moment whose abstract, indistinct quality adds to our unease: Is the cloaked figure an actual monster, or some kind of demon from the subconscious, always with these men?
Unfortunately, Baskin never again reaches such heights, as it soon devolves into something a lot more familiar and a lot less interesting. The cops are called to an abandoned Ottoman jail situated in what looks like a mansion. (The film’s title means “raid” in Turkish; presumably, the distributor has left it untranslated to avoid confusion with the Indonesian action hit The Raid.) There, as they split up, the film devolves first into some inept jump scares then finds its way to a climax that feels like a cross between wink-wink exploitation and torture porn. It would be inappropriate to give too many specifics about what happens near the end, but let’s just say that the distinct atmosphere of the first half gives way to something closer to a Rob Zombie movie.
There is a hint, however, that the overflowing machismo and sexual tension of those early scenes is finding its comeuppance here; the film even opens with a flashback to one of the characters as a child, fearful of the moaning sounds coming from his mother’s bedroom at night. But Evrenol falls into the same trap as many other horror filmmakers over the years: Simply acknowledging a theme doesn’t mean you’ve done anything interesting or novel with it. Still, we may find ourselves wondering if generic might be what the director is going for here. By the end, we get the distinct sense that we’ve been watching a calling-card film all along. Which may not be such a bad thing: On the evidence of the first half of Baskin alone, Evrenol seems to be a filmmaker who understands character, tension, and terror. Now all he needs is some follow-through.
Directed by Can Evrenol
Opens March 25, IFC Center