Posted on August 4, 2017

Baskin’s Conflicted Horror

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Baskin is a 2015 Turkish horror film directed by Can Evrenol. It centers on a group of police officers, including a young and naive officer named Arda (Görkem Kasal), as they respond to a late-night call and inadvertently wander into Hell. The men stumble into a place and time “where realms unite,” and they are doomed to be punished for their sins in life in a twisting tale that denies the viewer any semblance of reality to which they can cling as the horrors mount.

Baskin spins an intentionally disorienting narrative as perspective jumps from character to character, and dreams within dreams layer upon one another as the film moves toward its climax.

Despite its deliberately vague storytelling, however, the film does have moments that ground it in more conventional horror storytelling. For example, frogs appear as a recurring motif throughout the film—a symbol open for interpretation despite the drastic jumps in time and place. The frog’s life cycle may allude to the transformations the officers must undergo near the end of the film, leaving each of them vastly different, physically and psychologically. The frogs also mirror the humanoid figures the officers encounter in Hell: writhing and crawling over one another in a filthy heap of mindless bodies and grime.

Although I enjoyed decoding Evrenol’s complex narrative, I found it hard to decide how I felt about Baskin immediately after watching it. After considerable reflection, I believe this was because it teeters back and forth throughout between two different horror sub-genres. Baskin often evokes a surreal dreamlike atmosphere, calling to mind Twin Peaks or It Follows. Later, though, it delivers a barrage of “gore porn” shots that combine sex, viscera, and torture which seem more suited to the Saw franchise or, dare I say, the controversial 1987 German film, NEKRomantik (Jörg Buttgereit). The majority of the film takes place within a slow-paced dreamlike state with a delightful display of contrasting warm and cool tones. These sequences feature a number of longshots that allow beautifully laid-out scenes and thought-provoking moments to drag on for effect.

Arda experiencing a hallucination of gargantuan hands saving him from drowning

Once the narrative places the characters more clearly in Hell, however, these moments are continually interrupted with a seemingly endless barrage of extreme close-ups of mangled bodies, disturbing sexual acts, and a notably gut-wrenching eye-gouging scene. These sequences are erratic and largely rely on fast cuts to show the viewer just enough to make it clear that something incredibly disturbing is unfolding before cutting back to one of the protagonists’ horrified reaction.

These extreme contrasts were hard to grapple with as they depicted two very different types of horror: psychological horror and abject horror. Psychological horror utilizes a character’s mental and emotional state to create an unreliable and distressing atmosphere. This type of horror involves mystery and plays on the viewer’s fear of the internal monstrous. Abject horror refers to the more visceral response of shock and repulsion at witnessing a breakdown between the distinction of the self and the other. This type of horror relies on displaying the human form in a grotesque manner, exploiting the viewer’s fear of the external monstrous. These two styles appear to have been implemented in Baskin to show a contrast between the restaurant, an unstable location with unreliable protagonists, and Hell, a cascade of extreme body horror. However, the viewer is never shown a state of normalcy, an aspect both types of horror largely rely on. Without a state of normal as a point of contrast, which would make both the dreamstate  and Hell equally horrifying in different ways, Baskin forces the viewer to compare two vastly different tones, complicating the ability to empathize with extremely different horrors: the dread of uncertain mental stability and the dread of impending physical agony.

Arda discovers a pile of bagged corpses in a room where a man is being dissected alive

To further complicate my feelings about Baskin, the tones were executed well in their respective moments. The scenes that intend to leave the viewer feeling disoriented and concerned for Arda’s mental state accomplished their goals and the scenes intended to make the viewer cringe and worry for Arda’s physical state also succeeded. However, the extreme differences between the two, coupled with a lack of reality to latch onto, left me feeling that I was watching the highlights of two different horror movies at once. Overall, the tonal and visual whiplash may have been less jarring if the film featured something concrete to hold on to while the intentionally confusing narrative of Hellraiser meets Hostel unfolded. However, if potential viewers are less concerned with narrative and simply want to experience a barrage of horrors and moments that can never be unseen, Baskin may be exactly what they are looking for.

Katie Lizza is pursuing her Master’s Degree in American Studies at Lehigh University. Her interests lie in understanding the historical and cultural connections of pop-culture, specifically in comic books and horror films. She can be found on Facebook (facebook.com/klizza) and Twitter (twitter.com/draculizza).

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