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