Ink (2009)

Director/Screenwriter: Jamin Winans


By Marilyn Ferdinand

The technical wizardry and straightforward, heroic storytelling of James Cameron has again captured the world, as the science-fiction actioner Avatar is thrilling audiences and earning back its stratospheric cost in spades. But there’s another 2009 action-fantasy movie pitting good against evil that manages to razzle-dazzle on a modest $250,000. Jamin Winans is younger and less experienced than Cameron, and the ambitions he set himself with Ink seem a little beyond his capabilities. Nonetheless, Ink has its huge heart in the right place and some dazzling special effects that provide an intriguing alternate reality for audiences to ponder.


The film opens with a man in a highly agitated state screaming “fuck” repeatedly, getting into his car, screaming some more, looking around at people going about their business, and getting broadsided by a car crossing an intersection. The scene switches to nighttime. Some hip young men and women we later learn are called storytellers appear in the deserted streets and enter homes through doors and second-story windows. They lay hands on some of the sleeping people we were introduced to earlier in short vignettes. The dreams of these people are very good. Another set of beings called incubi also appear; they have screens in front of their faces onto which ghoulishly grinning faces with glowing eyeglasses are projected. When they enter homes and send their black fog across other sleepers, nightmares are the result. In one house, a fierce battle between the storytellers and Ink, a fearsome-looking creature dressed in a tattered cloak and hood, takes place. He is trying to make off with a seven-year-old girl named Emma (Quinn Hunchar). Despite the storytellers’ best efforts, Ink taps on a small drum that opens a portal and disappears into thin air with the girl.


As the storytellers plot ways to rescue Emma by enlisting the help of the ironically blind pathfinder Jacob (Jeremy Make) to locate her, an angelic, but strong storyteller named Liev (Jessica Duffy) projects herself to Emma and Ink’s side. Ink tells her that if he delivers Emma to the assembly of incubi he will be made numb. After unmasking the grotesque Ink, Liev sees that he entered their otherworldly realm by violence—a suicide—and imagines that someone in such pain must covet numbness. She offers herself as a prisoner instead of Emma, but Ink decides to take them both to the assembly as gifts. In the living world, the storytellers are trying to reunite Emma, who has been in a coma since Ink abducted her spirit, with John (Chris Kelly), the car crash victim who is Emma’s estranged father. “The girl needs her father,” everyone agrees. Everyone but John, that is.


At the heart of this story is how we direct our destinies by our ability or inability to feel and love. John lost his beloved wife Sarah (Selby Malone) in a car accident, a loss we are made to feel acutely by observing their shy and warm first meeting, courtship, and the birth of Emma. Winans shoots these scenes using soft edges and golden tints. He contrasts John’s empty present-day life as a workaholic finance executive who lost custody of Emma to Sarah’s parents with these more idyllic scenes to emphasize the extend of John’s pain and the difficulty the storytellers will have bringing him and Emma back together. At the same time, Liev works on Ink’s despairing resolve, comforting Emma with games of imagination and acceding to Ink’s wishes because, she reveals to Ink’s amazement, she did not come to help Emma, but rather to help Ink.


The meshing of the imaginary and real worlds is cleverly handled, particularly in a hospital scene in which John, realizing that he has been taken to the same hospital where Emma lies comatose, walks absently toward her room as the incubi who wish to block his journey and the storytellers battle furiously around him. I liked the rendering of the incubi—machinelike with assembly-line movements. Winans did a good job of differentiating with color and image sharpness the worlds of the incubi, the storytellers, Ink, and the living, even if the shifts were rather too frequent, making them seem a bit gimmicky.


Jacob the pathfinder was oddly costumed with a large, black “x” taped over each eye, as though he were a cartoon baddie who has just been conked on the head. His method of finding paths is aural, and setting people on a certain path is a matter of striking the right rhythms. As he arranges the car accident that puts John in the same place as Emma, I was reminded of a Rube Goldberg machine crossed with the 2000 Volkswagen Jetta “Synchronicity” commercial, not exactly a deep philosophy or mode of expression from which to draw.


I also thought that the film would have been more personally resonant and wouldn’t have begged the question of why Emma was so important in the spirit world if the ideas it expressed were more allegorical than literal. I think it hurt Winans’ story to actually posit a land of the physically and spiritually dead, essentially putting human beings on a path of predestination and divine intervention rather than owning their own faults of attention, emotional poverty, and self-loathing. It appears that Winans might have started down the less-literal road with the anagram names he gave some of his characters (Liev = Live, Ink = Kin), but changed course. Yet, the fact that these ideas came through to me with a good deal of clarity shows that the film simply needed to get out of its way and believe in its own ideas more.

In general, the cast of unknowns did a decent job with the material, especially young Quinn Hunchar in a large and pivotal role. An extra on the DVD in which Kelly and Hunchar talk about the film was strange and unintentionally echoed some of the themes of the film. When Quinn asked Chris what he thought the film was about, he said “redemption” and waxed philosophic in language far above the young actress’ head. When he asked Quinn what part of the film was her favorite to act, she said one in which she is playing imaginatively with her stuffed animals because it was most like what she does in real life. The high-falutin’ actor in Kelly was clearly nonplussed by this, very much in the way John found it almost impossible to play a game of imagination with Emma. Obviously, Winans cast these two actors perfectly, and he came very close to making an unequivocally good film. As it stands, Ink is a thought-provoking and impressive effort from a talent to watch. l

  • Greg F spoke:
    11th/02/2010 to 5:49 pm

    I’m curious to see this now. I was aware of it but not aware of the plot which quite interests me. I like well-intentioned efforts that don’t quite work much better than 300 million dollar efforts that work reasonably well. At least I get more excited for them.
    By the way, at the opening of the film, what was the man screaming repeatedly again?

  • Marilyn spoke:
    11th/02/2010 to 6:35 pm

    “Sarah Silverman is a pig.”

  • Castor spoke:
    12th/02/2010 to 12:21 pm

    Looking forward to see this! I have been sitting on the DVD for several weeks now.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    12th/02/2010 to 12:25 pm

    I hope you enjoy it, Castor. It’s a worthy effort.

  • Tony spoke:
    2nd/01/2011 to 5:58 am

    It is an amazing film and story with a deep, thought-provoking message that will confront anyone who will allow themselves to discern it’s truth and willing enough to realistically examine, honestly admit, and bravely deal with their own internal fears.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    2nd/01/2011 to 8:41 am

    Tony – The greatest tribute I can make to this film is that my grandchildren were deeply impressed with it.

  • PartialReason spoke:
    2nd/03/2011 to 5:39 am

    I think this film is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. I also think that you are way off on some of the assumptions you made about both the film and Winans. For example, Liev means lion, or lion-like, in Russian and this is a very important hint to the character’s true identity. Winans actually sets this up very well- When we first meet Emma she is playing make-believe with her father and in the following scene she is once again spinning a tale, this time with her stuffed animals. Later, Liev informs us that in her timeline a day can seem like a thousand years. Then there are several scenes when Liev and Emma are bound together and their movements mirror one another’s yet, if you watch closely, Emma actually appears to be leading, almost as if she is controlling Liev’s actions. Finally, at the end, when John/Ink remembers that Emma is his daughter, Liev, who has just been stabbed, is thrilled and then dies. So when Emma lives, Liev dies? Hmm…

  • Marilyn spoke:
    2nd/03/2011 to 7:52 am

    PR – I like this film a lot, too, but I’m not sure why your Russian translation is any more valid an interpretation of the name than mine. With mine, we understand the difference between life and numbness. With yours, what? That he has some kind of special power? I don’t see it. Please explain. You haven’t told me what you really think or why I’m so way off to you.

  • Julie spoke:
    11th/01/2012 to 5:42 am

    Hi, I”ve seen this movie, and… It’s huge, such a beautiful and a powerful movie

    Does anyone know the intro scene’s song?

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