Rarely do I ever get so annoyed and angry about one facet of a movie that it threatens to retroactively derail my enjoyment of the rest of it. Hell, I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite the screenplay being nothing but a Greatest Hits reel of A New Hope. When it comes to Baskin, I wasn’t pushed over that precipice, but I admit I came fairly close.
Baskin has achieved short term legendary status on some “Best Of” lists, number one on some of them, and it was inevitable I’d cross paths with it at some point. So, after slaying the technical issues I had with a subtitle file, and installing a brand new media server just for the purposes of watching this particular movie, I watched it last night. And went to bed slightly pissed off.
But here’s the thing: there is a LOT about this movie to love – for me in particular, it checked off a lot of boxes that I require in order to enjoy a horror movie, because frankly, even though they’re the go-to genre for low budget moviemaking, most of them are shit. They either feature stuff that’s waaaaaaay past its expiration date (zombie genre, that totally means you), they feature stuff that’s really just fanboy wank (“vampire subculture” sub-genre), or they’re just flat out low-budget, no-talent garbage (most of Netflix’s “horror” content). The tip of the iceberg are those movies that try something different or at least do retread stuff different enough that the execution transcends the content. And then there is the pinnacle, reserved for the agreed-upon best of the genre.
So where do I put Baskin? Definitely above water level. And what are those checkboxes I mentioned earlier? Well, for me, the number one golden rule of horror is to take a relatively “innocent” individual (or small group of people, as in this case) and put them into a situation that grows worse incrementally as the story unfolds. Horror is all about the loss of control, doesn’t matter what the external force is, really. We all fear being railroaded to our metaphorical and literal doom – The Fly, Candyman, The Blair Witch Project– these are some of my own gold standard examples of this theme. And Baskin is definitely an addition to movies that deal with it. One of the better movies, in fact.
Then there’s the whole grindhouse look and feel of it. I’m not a particular fan of the term “grindhouse”, it feels like lazy shorthand for “retro”. I only use it because the better movies of my VHS teenage years all captured a similar mood and atmosphere. Called it what you want, I just call it moviemaking. Movies in that vein have similar colour palettes, similar soundtrack keys, similar directorial styles, and often similar story and plot tropes. Baskin has many of these, but it doesn’t ever (to me) feel like some kind of nod-and-wink homage to the 80s, it feels pretty contemporary and engaged me on a deeper level than just a nostalgia trip. I also greatly enjoyed the fact that the movie has a specific cultural identity. It doesn’t appear to be a generic money grab that would open big in Davenport, Iowa and fizzle out the following weekend. I liked the characters (a group of five Turkish cops pulling a graveyard shift) debating La Liga results. I loved the singalong inside the police van. These were both moments of good character detail. Even the “asshole cop” restaurant scene felt real. The first half is pure setup and much of it golden. Throw in some weird stuff, and arrive at the midpoint with some intriguing new characters, and I was hooked.
Then I gradually was drawn deeper into the story, by some equally great horror-movie writing, and what happens in the basement of the place they’re compelled is such a brilliantly fucked-up extended sequence that contains some of the most memorable imagery in recent years. Almost everything about this second half is fantastic stuff, and here another box was checked for me: it has to be weird. Baskin’s second half is not just horrific: it’s also got some super weird stuff in there, like what is led out by chain from a dark hole in the corner, to what happens next. It’s fantastic stuff.
But then there’s that ending. I get that some (maybe most) viewers will like it well enough. They might even have come up with some kind of subjective interpretation of it, but for me, from a purely technical exercise in plot and story structure, the ending is flat-out terrible, and for me, not only did it kind of render the second half of the movie kind of worthless, for the next twenty minutes after the movie ended, I found myself hating the entire movie.
Fortunately, my good sense objectivity prevailed in the end, and even though I still cannot stand that ending, I’m still able to greatly appreciate of everything that happened right up to that point. Well worth watching.
This review was originally published on 4/12/2016 at https://thatsnotcurrentblog.wordpress.com