Famed playwright and essayist T.S. Eliot once wrote: “What is hell? Hell is oneself. Hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections. There is nothing to escape from and nothing to escape to. One is always alone.” Whether he knows it or not, Turkish born writer-director Can Evrenol is channeling Eliot’s words with his horror film Baskin. Adapting his own short film, Evrenol takes the central conceit that hell exists within us and transforms it into a dark, perverse, and, at times, deeply unsettling experience.
Visually speaking, Baskin is a triumph for the young director. There is a great deal of familiar beats — borrowing cues from Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci to Clive Barker to David Lynch — but it is undeniable that the final product is unique to the mind of Evrenol. The film follows five detectives who, responding to a call for backup, find themselves entrenched in the confines of a mysterious abandoned building. Once inside, however, the officers stumble upon a hellish ritual that threatens their lives. With much of the story’s narrative focusing on aspects of the film’s unraveling psychological layers, it is difficult to delve too deep into the plot without spoiling specific aspects. This is one of the elements of the film that works best. Evrenol never allows his audiences to find comfortable footing but rather introduces a continual slippage between the boundaries between dreams, nightmares, and reality. The result is sometimes stunning, sometimes horrifying, but always captivating.
Even for horror, Baskin isn’t for everyone. Evrenol does not shy away from graphic imagery, and much of the film’s back half is a visceral test in stamina. Not since Hellraiser has a film so adequately depicted hellish imagery and Baskin’s seemless mixture of carnage and sexuality offers a unique depiction of vice not often seen. While those that stick with it will surely find a good deal to praise — especially in terms of visual experimentation, taut cinematography, and fantastic performances all around — Baskin does suffer too much from feeling like a first feature. Evrenol clearly feels that he has something to prove but, in pushing the boundaries, his film comes off somewhat lacking. It shares far too much in common with the widely ridiculed ‘torture porn’ sub-genre. But while torture porn is thought of offering empty visual assaults, it’s hard to write off Baskin as merely hollow; there is a vision, and a message, it is just obscured by Evrenol’s tendency towards visuals rather than narrative. The resulting script is rather thin and ends up being the film’s greatest weakness. With a little more attention paid towards the psychology of individual characters Baskin could have been one of the strongest films of the year but, even with its problems, it still stands as a testament to the genre in the modern era. With hopes, Baskin will become a stepping-stone to further greatness from a clearly talented director.