Turkey (2015) Dir. Can Evrenol
“Arthouse horror” is the latest trend in cinema to come from South America and parts of Europe, with Mexican effort We Are The Flesh the first one experienced by yours truly – “experienced” being the operative word as these surreal descents into unimaginable psychedelic and psychotic worlds can’t really be enjoyed in the traditional sense.
Turkey throws its hat into the ring with Baskin which sees first time director Can Evrenol extending an older short film of his into what is only the eighth film in Turkish history to get a US release. It concerns a squad of off duty police officers finishing a late night post-shift feed at a roadside café when they receive a back-up request in an unfamiliar location called Inceagac.
During the drive, the cops think they hit a naked man in the road and crash in a nearby river, and are rescued by a family of oddball itinerants. Discovering they are in fact already in Inceagac, the cops set off on foot to the location of the call, a derelict building inside which they find their colleague in a traumatic state banging his head against a wall. Exploring the premises further they head downstairs and walk literally into Hell.
Or something like that. Abstract art requires a curious and unique mind which Baskin suggests Evrenol does indeed possess but success is greater if your audience is on the same wavelength, or at least somewhere in the same stratosphere, so they can follow what you are producing. Looking at other reviews of this film it seems to have been well received by many horror aficionados, which once again leaves me in the minority.
I’ll resist making direct comparisons to the aforementioned We Are The Flesh but for reference’s sake, it and Baskin share the same mental filing cabinet marked “What the hell was that?”. A lot of it was down to the film being shot in the dark and the camera zooming around like a fidgeting toddler barely focusing on anything long enough for it to register while the story is abandoned halfway through.
The film actually begins with a prologue of a young child having a nightmare then being woken up by the sounds of his mother getting her rocks off. The lad gets up to switch off a TV in another room when a spectral figure beckons him from his room, scaring the pants off the youngster. We later learn this is a recurring nightmare of the youngest cop Arda (Gorkem Kasal), an orphan raised by his senior cop uncle Remzi (Ergun Kuyucu).
At first, there seems little connection to this and the rest of the film but Arda’s confession to his uncle occurs during what transpires to be another surreal dream sequence that segues into Arad being rescued from the river. Evrenol’s use of abrupt editing at crucial points of the action to facilitate an apparent non-sequitur becomes a regular effect to throw the audience into further confusion while painting the nightmarish picture of the hell Arda and his colleagues are trapped in.
Maybe not painting the whole picture as the second half of the film is quite something when it comes to bringing unspeakable nightmare scenarios to life – before that, Evrenol serves up something akin to foreplay but not necessarily of the stimulating kind. It is almost 30 minutes before the squad hit the road; prior to this we are introduced to this rather unlikable group of braggadocious alpha-males, one of whom confesses he lost his virginity to a chicken(!).
The downside here is that when they do meet a grisly end (not a spoiler, it’s a horror film – there are always main cast casualties) we are not really sad to see them go, although given the choice between these objectionable halfwits and the inhuman freaks they succumb to, this is the only time they are the clear preference.
Having seen a number of disturbing sights inside the abandoned building, such as ravaged bodies, filth, blood, entrails and the film’s leitmotif of frogs, none of this prepares the cops for that lies beneath. Masked people covered in blood and muck either copulating or harming each other (it’s hard to tell) and live organ and body part removals by bizarre, grotesque sub humans are just the tip of this horrific iceberg.
I won’t go any further in detailing the surreal, claret soaked atrocities and unpleasantries performed hereto after, but I can reveal that the instigator of all of this is a small, deformed chap named Baba or Father (Mehmet Cerrahoglu). Arguably the most “normal” looking of the perverted underground dwellers, Baba is charismatic in a disturbing way but what his mindset and motivations are aren’t clear and Evrenol doesn’t seem keen to share it with us.
Developing Baba and the other characters is not the only weakness of the script, much of this can be attributed to the narrative being structured to keep the twists from being easily predicted, along with throwing the viewer directly into Arda’s nightmare with the haphazard timelines. The emphasis on the visual aspect, while strong and impressive given the low budget and filming restrictions, also harms the telling of the story and leaves us more and more wanting, nay NEEDING, to know why this is all happening.
Evrendol didn’t have all the right permits for filming hence the night time shoots over 28 nights and febrile, paranoid aura of the film – a lot of which can come in post-production in editing – that feels palpable through the camera. This is a serendipitous boon, along with the remarkable discovery of first time actor Mehmet Cerrahoglu, whose rare real life skin condition was instrumental in creating a fascinating and unique character
For all the technical positives and promising ideas, there is just too much about Baskin that I couldn’t follow or latch onto to be invested enough to compensate for having my stomach churned. For the few, definitely not for the many.