Review: Ink (15) / Director: Jamin Winans / Screenplay: Jamin Winans / Starring: Christopher Soren Kelly, Quinn Hunchar, Jessica Duffy / Release date: Out now
The history behind Jamin Winans' soaring fantasy film Ink is one of those tales that exemplify the current world we live in and how films are found and distributed.
Made for a mere $250,000, the film premiered at the Santa Barbara Film festival in January 2009. It then went on to screen at other film festivals across the states and picked up some awards. Despite the acclaim however, no big studio was willing to throw their weight behind the film. The production company Double Edged Films then decided to pitch the movie directly to independent cinemas and saw to the distribution of the film on DVD and Blu-ray themselves. At first you could only buy copies of the film directly via the production company’s website, but then a strange twist of fate happened emerging from the most unusual place. Ink was downloaded something like 400,000 times in one week via BitTorrent and thus exposed the film to a larger audience. This in turn led to the film receiving a boost in DVD and Blu-ray sales. By Christmas 2009 the film was largely available on DVD via most retail stores in the United States.
It’s a damn shame that in this day and age you have to discover a film as wonderful and as accomplished as Ink via illegal means, when if there was any justice the film would be hailed as the lo-fi fantasy classic it is. Jamin Winans should now be enjoying the type of career of Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton but it seems that for the moment anyway he will continue toiling around in the low budget arena. If this film were made in the early 90’s it would have been picked up by Miramax or someone with vision and marketed into a modern fantasy classic. Ink evokes the work of Neil Gaiman and Terry Gilliam in its narrative and the work of The Waschowski Brothers with its visuals.
The film begins with stressed workaholic John (Chris Kelly) cursing and shouting in his car before being smashed into by another car. We then cut to the inside of his head where he has a dream regarding his estranged daughter Emma (Quinn Hunchar) and his inability to connect with her. We discover that the world by night is ruled over by two separate invisible factions. Storytellers and Incubi. Storytellers are warriors who provide people with inspirational and wonderful dreams by touching their foreheads whilst they sleep. Then there are the Incubi; spirits who come from vanity and pride, whose faces are covered with screens that show distorted happy faces and who influence people’s nightmares. One night a hideously deformed creature called Ink, who is neither Storyteller nor Incubus comes to Emma whilst she sleeps and kidnaps her soul. A battle with the Storytellers follows but Ink manages to escape with the girl who in the real world falls into a coma. Meanwhile John is experiencing a major stress headache when an account he has been working on is about to be swept away from him costing his company millions of dollars. Through flashback we learn that John lost custody of Emma when his wife died, leading him into a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse. A small band of Storytellers, together with the blind Pathfinder Jacob, try and get Emma back from Ink who is travelling between dimensions, through time and limbo. Ink intends to deliver Emma to the Incubi so that he can become one of them and get rid of the endless shame and guilt he feels over his appearance. Emma’s grandparents approach John in the real world and ask for his help, he wants nothing to do with them and his feelings of resentment again rise to the surface. The Storytellers find out that John is being followed by an Incubus during the day and realise that reaching out to him may be the best way of getting Emma back. A final confrontation ensues in the dream worlds and the real worlds and we discover that Ink may be far more connected to the real world than previously thought.
The story for Ink is told in non-linear fashion, the idea being that in the dream worlds time as we know it does not exist. So at the beginning we witness some events that do not make sense until the climax of the film. This may sound confusing but doesn’t get that way whilst you are watching the film which flows brilliantly. Winans has total control over all of the elements including the editing and skillfully weaves the story elements together into a coherent whole. I’m getting to that age now where having children seems like a major priority so the story at the heart of this film touched me in ways I did not expect. Ultimately it boils down to a story about a father reconnecting with his daughter and it’s so well portrayed and so heartfelt without becoming schmaltzy that I couldn’t help but shed a tear in a couple of scenes.
Visually Ink is incredible, for a film with such a low budget it’s remarkable that they managed to accomplish what they did in this way. They filmed on cameras at the lower end of the spectrum so it’s a very soft focus film, due to the nature of the story this works wonders because it gives the whole thing a very dreamlike quality. The effects work around the Storytellers and Incubi is brilliant. They blink into existence with a flash and what sounds like a drumbeat and when they fight, they end up trashing the houses around them with the items destroyed quickly rebuilding themselves and putting themselves back where they came from. It’s a stunningly simple concept and done in such a seamless fashion that during the well choreographed fights you feel utterly exhilarated. The Incubi are some of the creepiest freaky looking beings on screen for years. First they all look like the mugshots of wanted sex offenders that you see on the news, then their faces are contorted into weird grins no matter what they are doing giving them a terrifying nightmarish edge. A sequence when Jacob the pathfinder listens to the flow of the world and disrupts it with a chain of events leading to an accident is one of the best set pieces of the last few years. What’s been missing from films recently is an abundance of new ideas, it’s why there are so many damn remakes and reboots. Ink is a film that is loaded with ideas, brilliant ideas and ones that are really well conceived. If Ink takes off as a major cult success eventually, then expect Hollywood to reboot it with a bigger budget, it’s the kind of brilliant world built with specific rules and characters that they love to get their hands on.
If there is a complaint about Ink, and it’s really just a minor one, it’s that some of the acting is kind of wooden especially from the main character. The actors portraying the otherworldly characters do the best work here especially Jessica Duffy as Live the Storyteller who has an almost supernatural grace and warmth to her. Jeremy Make as Jacob is also a lot of fun, again coming across well as a supernatural being although one with considerably more character and a foul mouth. Most of the performers do a bang up job inhabiting their characters but some give fairly flat line readings. It’s a similar problem that plagued the lower budget film Monsters from Gareth Edwards last year, but in the same way the story and visuals are so fascinating that it never becomes a glaring problem. If you liked the reality bending films Dark City, The Matrix and Inception and miss early Terry Gilliam films like Time Bandits then you should seek Ink out, it’s a true low budget gem and the calling card of a major talent just waiting to be discovered.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes featurette / director commentary / interview with Chris and Quinn / deleted Scenes / trailers.