I watched this extremely disturbing little horror film as part of my research for my horror panels at Norwescon this year. I had a panel on religious horror, and this was a rare opportunity to see a religious horror film that was made from a non-Christian point of view–Baskin was made in Turkey, and its visions of sin and grace were Islamic rather than the usual Catholic or Protestant fare.
The story is fairly simple. A group of Turkish cops who operate out of a single vehicle are ordered to investigate an incident in an isolated village. They roll out in the middle of the night to respond to the call, but wind up in a car accident that dumps their SUV into the river. When they climb out of the wreckage, the situation in the village is still ongoing, and they move in as a unit to check it out.
There isn’t a great deal of plot to spoil here, but if you want to see the film and be surprised by its twists and scares, this would be the place to stop reading…
Overall, I wouldn’t call this a good film. It has a few moments that truly impressed me as awe-inspiring or terrifying, but these are just high points in a movie that’s otherwise pretty banal or dumb.
The strongest writing of the film is in the characterization of the cops, their banter and their various personal agendas and flaws. There’s one haunting and somehow charming scene of these brutal men singing along to a pop song on the radio as they ride through the dark, snapping their fingers and dancing in their seats. They know every word of the lyrics, a teenage anthem of defiance against the authorities that keep you from meeting your lover after curfew–including the cops.
There is a scene where the youngest of the cops is drowning in a black river at night, and we get a really beautifully shot side view of him sinking into the deep water. What pulls him out of the situation is literally the Hand of God–a massive ethereal hand that lifts him up to air and safety. It’s quite a beautiful and exalting image, and a great special effect. I thought it captured very well how the faithful see the world.
The ending of the film places all of our heroes at the gates of hell, to be tortured by demonic forces/witches. The sequence is long and exploits all of the anxieties of the intended Turkish audience, particularly the sexual fears–there is some heavily taboo material here, including torture and mutilation, and some forced sex fantasies that are extremely kinky and disturbing.
What struck me most about this sequence, however, was the way the demonic witch cult was modeled on a Christian ceremony, with the male leader of the congregation presiding over the sacrifices. They picked an amazing actor for the role, Mehmet Cerrahoglu–to my knowledge this was his first film, although surely not his last. According to the Wikipedia article, Cerrahoglu suffers from a “rare skin condition” which gives him his remarkable appearance…his appearance has not been altered for the film, and he looks genuinely misshapen and inhuman in these scenes. The contrast between his grotesque appearance and ultra-violent sadism and his beautiful voice and gentle tone is a great source of dissonance.
Overall, this movie has a quirky little place in the catalog of any completist who collects religious horror films or sexualized gore films. Not my usual cuppa tea, but I was glad I saw it.