The Underrated: Ink
What the hell happened to this one? In an age bereft of intelligent philosophical science fiction/ fantasy, unless you count Avatar’s infantile save the whales nonsense, it strikes me as absolutely criminal the treatment this film received. I’d never even heard of it until about 5 minutes before I turned it on, and as a result, I’m seriously considering buying it on Blu-Ray. It’s no hyperbole for me to say that Ink is probably the best film I’ve seen this year. I’m not exaggerating, this is a touching, deep and clever film made by a film-school dropout on an absolute shoestring. This is the film that only managed to get DVD distribution because of piracy (according to imdb, anyhow), and I’d like to thank every sticky-fingered internet nerd out there for that. Well done, everyone, now if you can turn your hands to stamping U2 out, then the internet really will have worked wonders.
You’ll have to bear with me on the plot summary, because Ink is an incredibly complex film. The mythology is that there’s an eternal war being waged between the Storytellers and the Incubi. The Storytellers are responsible for the good dreams that people have, and the Incubi deal with nightmares and negativity. We’re introduced to John, played by Christopher Kelly. John is a capitalist pig of the highest order. He’s failing dismally as a human being, having become alienated from his daughter Emma(Quinn Huchar) in the aftermath of his wife’s death. She’s fallen into a coma, and he’s closing the biggest and most important deal of his career to date. In the meantime, within the fully realised Dream World (where the majority of the film takes place) and she’s been kidnapped by a twisted and mutilated demon “Ink” who is attempting to take her to the incubus gathering (for reasons never revealed). The Storyteller Liev (Jessica Duffy) is attempting to divert Ink from his goal, while another group of Storytellers led by Jennifer Batter’s Allel including a weird “pathfinder” (a blind guy that can follow “the beat”) named Jacob are attempting to work on John to save him from a no-doubt tragic end. They’re also tasked with waking Emma- something that they believe they need John to do. John, however, has serious problems because he’s being plagued by an incubus when awake. I won’t go into any more detail, because to do so will seriously spoil the film.
What this amounts to, is basically a three stranded story. There’s Ink, Liev and Sarah as one strand navigating the Dream world, then there’s John in the REal World(the events involving him play out of sequence, something that adds to the ethereal atmosphere of the film) and then there is the group of Storytellers trying to save John’s bacon. As the three prongs come together in the finale, it becomes terribly sad while simultaneously being edge-of-the-seat exciting.
That it is so touching and exciting is entirely down to the actors. Kelly is superb as John- he’s a damaged person, but manages to maintain sympathy- the scene arguing with Emma’s grandfather is fantastic: “So I’m a person now?”. He’s clearly plagued by the whispering Incubus (when we see him in meetings and things, we also hear the comments of the demon), and it is incredibly obvious that his life is travelling down the wrong path. Duffy is also great as Liev, being simultaneously playful, touching, sympathetic. Nevertheless, the real revelation is Hunchar as Emma. Wow- this is a fantastic child performance. Part of the reason is that the casting is so good. When asked what he thought it was about, Kelly waffled on about “Redemption” and high-philosophy. He’s right it is at least partially about redemption. However, when asked about what her favourite moment was, Hunchar said “playing with imaginary animals, because that’s what I do when I play” leaving Kelly aghast and staring at her like she was an alien. Obviously, he had a real disconnect with the child that mirrors John’s inability to relate to his daughter. Nice work.
Ink was made for only $250,000 and you can’t tell. It looks dramatically more expensive than that. The cinematography here is brilliant, so credit to Jeff Pointer. He’s conjured an ethereal atmosphere to the dream sequences, and clever use of different filters allows us ot witness the same scene from different points of view, and be totally aware of which realm you are currently witnessing. The direction in general is actually really strong- with the cause-and-effect car crash conducted by the Pathfinder being one of the most spectacular pieces of film-making that I’ve seen in a while. This is a big and complicated film, but Jamin Winans (also writer and on music) doesn’t allow it to get away from him- the final sequence in particular with the intercut fighting could have been a confusing mess, but actually works a treat.
Which brings me round to the special effects. Obviously on $250,000, they had to be pretty limited, but there are some spectacular effects on display here- the CGI incubus effect, for example, leaping to mind. I cannot honestly believe that this film cost so little to make. It’s astonishing and an incredible achievement. The fighting itself is supremely well done: The Storytellers’ final stand attempting to hold the Incubi away from John is an epic scene, truly exciting to watch and not confusing in the slightest (which it easily could have been).
Ink is a cracking film, but what it’s really big on is atmosphere. Winans did the music and has an other-worldly, trip-hop quality that works a treat with the cinematography. This is a haunting film made with a lot of heart, and wonderfully makes you accept the rules it operates in through the atmosphere it creates. It never explains why the Storytellers place good dreams in your head, or why the Pathfinder can hear the beat, these things are taken as read- you have to accept it for the film to function. It’s a credit to how successful the atmosphere is that the film does work, drawing the viewer in and allowing the events to unfold in an air of transcendence. Personally, I like that it doesn’t explain these things and don’t consider it a flaw that you have to allow yourself to accept the dreamworld for the film to be successful.
Overall, I thoroughly recommend this film, and if I ever applied a chang rating to these underrated reviews then I’d seriously be considering 4 out of 4. There are a couple of minor flaws to Ink, but the atmosphere is so heady, the cinematography is so good, and the performances brilliant, that I found it astonishingly easy to ignore them. I honestly haven’t been as impressed by a film as this one in a long time, and I genuinely hope that everyone involved goes on to bigger and better things. This is a truly astonishing effort, and one that I will certainly be revisiting in a couple of weeks.
As soon as the Blu-Ray arrives.
Until next time,