The word “indie” has a certain connotation now. Like it or not, after years of building up a reputation and sliding more and more into the mainstream, indie films bring some standard features along for the ride – or at least evoke those standard features in the minds of viewers. Most indies are character-based, dialog-based studies without a lot of bells and whistles. If that formula has you ready to tear your hair out, Ink may just change your mind about what’s possible in the indie world. Epic in nature with strong, inventive make up and the most eye-popping visuals I’ve seen outside a studio film in a long time, it’s a film that can stop your heart both with its story and with its look.
Ink tells the fairy tale of the world that exists while we’re asleep. It’s a world where storytellers enter our rooms to give us good dreams and ghoulish incubuses spread darkness over our sleeping forms in order to induce nightmares. It’s a world where those lost souls stuck in the middle are forced to slave out an eternity of obscurity and decay or to try to join the storytellers or the incubuses. It’s a world where a little girl becomes a bargaining chip for Ink, one such lost soul, to earn his place amongst the elite of the dark side. On the flip side of reality, that young girls’ father John (Chris Kelly) has lost his way – bracing his existence against the warm glow of financial success and the sun shining through the windows of his corner office. In the dream world – his daughter (Quinn Hunchar) has been kidnapped. In the real world, she’s gone into a coma, and her father might be the only way to pull her out of it.
I could write paragraphs more trying to shore up a synopsis for this film, but it defies succinctness. The story itself involves a lot of mythology all coming together at once, told beautifully, as well as a host of characters that play pivotal roles. The young girl, Emma, stands in the middle of a whirlwind of forces attempting to either keep her safe or deliver her into harm’s way. Storytellers, a blind pathfinder who uses the beat and rhythm of life to find where she’s being taken, the incubuses awaiting her arrival and keeping her father knee deep in dark thoughts, and her dad who needs to wake up from his own personal coma in order to be a man and save the little girl he loves.
The film itself tells the story through sweeping visuals. Comparisons to Dark City are warranted, but Ink is far more dynamic, blending moments of intense light with the dankness of the city sewers, the sepia tones of a dream-like forest, and the brutish reality of John’s office life. All of this makes the dark moments that much more striking. Plus, the FX work done by Jamin Winans and company is mind-blowing considering the budget. The incubuses feature a glass plate which distorts their features into what looks like an electrified green static field, the initial fight scene features a cool effect where anything damaged (tables, chairs, windows) reform instantly so that reality won’t be disturbed, storytellers and Ink jump between the dream world and reality with a camera flash of brilliant light.
Still, it’s difficult to describe in words. This is a movie that needs to be seen, and it’s a film that deserves to be celebrated.
Aside from the FX, the story itself is woven together deftly, especially considering how many pieces of the puzzle are up in the air at once. The film shifts easily between showing John’s struggle to come to terms with where his life has led him and his daughter’s journey deeper into the middle world between dreams and reality as the prisoner of Ink. What’s more, the characters (beyond the truly-frightening incubuses and the unquestionably good storytellers) are all multi-layered. Ink, in particular, is a wonderful character that is fleshed out throughout the story – moving from antagonist and kidnapper into a sympathetic character that’s committing a desperate act to feel power again. Likewise, Emma moves from creative young girl into a brave lioness of a child who stands up to her captor. The most detailed character is John – and in a way it’s his film – a man who seems to have had the world at one point, but threw it away on success, 80-hour work weeks, and the thrill of too many drinks after work. As his personal history is retold, we get a complete view of a man who once had love but lost it, a man who has driven himself insane.
What results is an incredible achievement in recasting a good versus evil story by creating an epic that’s grounded in the roots of very common everyday fears. It’s a fantasy world connected firmly to reality. It’s a phenomenal look at an inner struggle come to life with the brilliant attention to visual detail of a master painter.
All in all, Ink is a movie that has the potential to reach cult status. It’s a dark fairy tale that is never quite fully dreamlike and never fully set in the real world. Director Jamin Winans has created an indie that sets itself apart from other indies by attacking the fantasy/science fiction genre and displaying some incredible visuals – so much so that it should stand as a beacon for what indies are truly capable of, pushing that boundary just a little further.
Editor’s Note: Ink is coming out on Friday, March 13th, at the Starz Film Center at the Tivoli in Denver. The filmmakers are hoping that the release will catch the attention of a distributor. If you happen to be in Denver, this is a good shot at seeing a great film.