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“BASKIN” (Movie Review)

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Lord, is the first half of BASKIN a wonderfully beguiling, legitimately disorienting thing of beauty!

Opening with a dreamlike rendition of a young boy’s creepy supernatural encounter that foreshadows stranger, darker things to come, the film then plunges post-title-frame into a weirdly esoteric backwoods-on-the-edge-of-the-abyss assignment that pretty clearly isn’t going to end well for a gaggle of braggadocio-inclined, swaggering cops. From the outset, this feature-length debut by Turkish director Can Evrenol exudes a cool surrealist vibe—think Ingmar Bergman’s THE MAGICIAN meets Nacho Cerdà’s underrated 2006 ghost story THE ABANDONED. (It’s tempting to toss MAGNOLIA into the mix as well, mostly based on oodles of portentous frogs and hyper-rich color palettes.)

For 45 solid, engrossing minutes, Evrenol offers a master class in how to ratchet up tension. Throughout this first half, he consistently raises and reraises the stakes, imprints more and more metaphorical import upon the narrative, pierces and then eviscerates the thin veil between our reality and its metaphysical underpinnings and lures us further and further down the rabbit hole.

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Alas, by the time we reach the culmination of all this buildup, misdirection and innuendo in the basement of a dilapidated building moonlighting as a hellmouth, the juice isn’t quite as sweet or strong as the long squeeze promised. Instead, we are subjected to a watered-down HELLRAISER by way of HOSTEL by way of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY-type setup, complete with a lead demon (The Father, portrayed by Mehmet Cerrahoglu) who looks like a circa-THE HILLS HAVE EYES Michael Berryman playing a pinless Pinhead and prefers to speak exclusively in grandiloquent faux profundities. “Hell is not a place you go,” he announces at one point, for example. “You carry hell with you at all times. You carry it inside of you. We are your humble companions on the road fate chose for you.”

Aside from some off-color dinner-table talk about raunchy human and non-human sexcapades—“It’s not about f**king the chicken,” the chief helpfully advises, “it’s about catching it”—and an unnecessary GOODFELLAS-esque drunken attack on a helpless waiter who snickers at an inopportune moment, it isn’t clear how these men earned their damnation. Or why their punishment, in addition to dismemberment and torture, includes being forced to mate on the ground with what appear to be grunting, grimy extras from MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME.

At the end of the film—SPOILER ALERT—we get a brief glimpse of the circular, celestial nature of the road through perdition on which these men have been on a forced march, but it a) unfortunately feels like a rather perfunctory tying up of loose ends and b) makes the entire sequence in the perverts’ purgatory appear to be a disconnected, offhand aside. While declarations like “Tonight we are at a crossroads. Maybe it’s just you and me, maybe just you, maybe all of us” and “We were summoned here tonight. There was no call for backup” seem to point toward eventual resolution, the lines fall from the characters’ mouths and float off into the ether like jokes without punchlines.

Evrenol has a real knack for creating unique atmospheres and making the extremely far-out seem eminently plausible. Likely as not, he’ll build an interesting, boundary-testing career atop the buzz surrounding BASKIN. That said, the movie was famously developed into a feature from a much-heralded short, and there are more than a few moments in the course of the film when it feels as if stretching it out did it no favors.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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