The fantasy movie Ink (2009), is the creation of Jamin and Kiowa Winans. An independently produced film that was screened at several festivals, it failed to gain a distribution deal from any major studio. Not to be deterred, the filmmakers began distributing it online, and have gained quite an audience in the process. And not without reason. Ink is an impressively stylish fairytale that relates a familiar moral.
The film begins with a harried salaryman, John (Chris Kelly), getting into his car, having a temper tantrum as he drives along and getting t-boned in an intersection. As he sits unconscious in the wreck, a woman's hand reaches is to touch his forehead. In one of the marked transitions that characterize the non-linear narrative style of the movie, we then see him outdoors with his daughter, Emma (Quinn Hunchar) who is encouraging him to play with her. He overcomes his reluctance and joins in with her game. The scene then changes again to a suburban street at night as a group of dapper twenty-somethings appear out of thin air and surreptitiously enter the neighborhood houses. These are the Storytellers who bestow good dreams on the sleeping citizens, including Emma, who is ministered to by Allel (Jennifer Batter). But soon a sinister group of middle-aged men appears dressed all in black vinyl and with eerie screens in front of their faces. They are the Incubi, who inflict nightmares on the helpless sleepers. Hot on their heels appears a shambling figure with a nose like a troll and dressed in rags. This is the eponymous Ink, who abducts Emma despite the best efforts of Allel and the other kung-fu fighting Storytellers. And so Allel must seek out Jacob (Jeremy Make), an obnoxious Pathfinder who was struck blind by God and who is the only one that can lead her to the girl. Meanwhile, Liev (Jessica Duffy), another Storyteller-cum-martial artist confronts Ink directly in an attempt to save Emma from his clutches.
That brief synopsis doesn't to justice to the stylish convolutions through which this film unfolds. Despite the daringly non-sequential way the story is conveyed things never become confused and the narrative thread isn't lost. And although there are a few scenes that fall flat, Winans exhibits a sure hand that keeps the film from ever becoming muddled. It's a remarkable accomplishment in it's own right and marks a filmmaker of no mean talent. The performances of the three leads are equally impressive. Chris Kelly (who incidentally bears a passing resemblance to Milo Ventimiglia) delivers a solid portrayal of an ambitious but emotionally distant father. Jessica Duffy is convincing and sympathetic as the valorous Storyteller. And young Quinn Hunchar delivers a capable performance as the endangered daughter.
The weakness of this film is in the underlying plot and in the other actors, some of whom deliver substandard performances. Jennifer Batter is flat and unremarkable as the Storyteller leading the chase after Ink. And it's bad enough that Jeremy Make is stuck playing the clichéd role of the abrasive but indispensably talented expert, but his awkward and ineffective delivery of the character make Jacob one of the weakest aspects of the film. Almost as weak as the plot, which not only resorts to the hoary cliché of the Baby Snatcher (as does Without a Trace, Lost, Torchwood "Children of Earth," and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) but also delivers a moral that is mawkish in the extreme. When all is said and done you get the feeling that this film is intended to play on the feelings of guilt experienced by working parents and remind them that their children are the most important things in their lives. A commendable sentiment, but also one that is rather banal.
But the pleasure of this film is in the watching. However disappointing the substance of the fable being conveyed, the sheer sumptuousness of the telling more than makes up for it. It makes me want to seek out Winans' other films to see if they have as much flair. With Ink he has created a visually enticing, though ultimately cloying, fantasy that deserves wider attention than it has so far received.