Baskin generated scream-worthy buzz last year in the horror flick community, picking up more steam at 2015's Fantastic Fest in Austin and earning Can Evrenol a Best Director award for his debut feature film.
Often pigeonholed in the international genre, this Turkish import has racked up three wins and four nominations and we've got another chance to see it during the Turkish Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Those who've seen the film point to Evrenol's gift for building suspense and unveiling the story, beginning with its 15-minute opening scene, in which five police officers dine together at a restaurant. Pay close attention here, as themes of lust, rage and gluttony play out later in the film.
Baskin has the novelty of being a rare horror film from Turkey. There have been others, to be fair, reaching back decades, but most of the entries we'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.) 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 a 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 – add a gathering sense of otherworldly tension.
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So far, so good. And Baskin has one genuinely terrifying scene near its middle, in a kind of dream-vision/projection/flashback straight out of David Lynch's playbook. But it soon devolves into something more familiar and less interesting. The cops are called to an abandoned Ottoman jail situated in what looks like a mansion. There, as they split up, the film first devolves into some inept jump scares, then finds its way to a climax that feels like a cross between wink-wink exploitation and torture porn. On the evidence of the first half, Evrenol understands character, tension and terror. Now all he needs is some follow-through.
Baskin screens at 9:30 p.m. September 30 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Brown Auditorium Theater, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7550, mfah.org/tff. $8 to $10.
The Turkish Film Festival continues with Sivas (7 p.m. September 29), Ivy (7:30 p.m. September 30), The Cats of Istanbul (5 p.m. October 1, 7 p.m. October 2), 125 Years Memory (7 p.m. October 1) and Lemonade (5 p.m. October 2).
Bilge Ebiri contributed to this post.