Ink

Ink

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" screams a slickly dressed businessman, pounding his car's dashboard with each word. The man is John (Chris Kelly), currently "at the point of life and death on a multimillion dollar deal", but also plagued by an unhappy past that has just come back to prick his already fragile psyche at the least (or perhaps most) opportune time imaginable. Visibly distraught, stressed and enraged, John is clearly an emotional accident waiting to happen. Then, suddenly and without warning, at a crossroads both literal and metaphorical, his car is hit hard by an SUV that comes careening without warning out of the side street - and everything changes.

This is the scene with which Jamin Winans' Ink begins, and to which it will later return in more detail. It is a crucial instant when what has been, what might have been and what will be are all brought into violent collision, so that something momentous and charged with new potential can emerge from all the wreckage. Ink may soon turn into a full-blown fantasy where guardian angels do battle with personal demons in a chronologically skew-whiff alternative universe, but it is John's psychology, agency and moral choice that will anchor all this genre material to something more human and real.

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Every night, 'Storytellers' visit people in their sleep with inspiring or comforting dreams, while 'Incubi' harry them with nightmares of anxiety and despair. When a being named Ink, neither Storyteller nor Incubus, abducts John's estranged young daughter Emma (Quinn Hunchbar) from her bed, leaving her physical body behind in a coma, a group of three Storytellers (Jennifer Batter, Eme Ikwuakor, Shelby Malone) turns to Jacob (Jeremy Make), a blind 'Pathfinder', to help wake Emma up in the real world - or at least "shake the shit out of her". Meanwhile another Storyteller, Liev (Jessica Duffy), will voluntarily become Ink's prisoner, hoping to dissuade this self-loathing creature from sacrificing Emma to the Incubi as the price of becoming an Incubus himself.

It would be all too easy to dismiss Ink as an essentially simple tale of domestic tragedy, work-life imbalance and miraculous redemption, where the fantasy frame is all unnecessary wrapping, but that would be to ignore the extraordinary ambition in its telling. For this is a story that unfolds in multiple dimensions and timeframes, each with their own distinctive look, and all woven together to create a compelling - and at times confusing - whole where not only good and evil, Hollywood's favourite opposition, are able to coexist, but also chance and causality, the factual and the counterfactual – and the film's fantasy apparatus is precisely the means through which Winans converts his characters' (or character's) internal psychology into an engaging cinematic medium.

Not that Ink is without flaws. Certainly Winans is at his best in the visual realm, and the early sections of his film, in which supernatural entities are seen wordlessly working their nightshifts, prove highly effective examples of narrative economy. The moment, however, that Ink shifts gears from show to tell, the weaknesses in the writing come to the fore, as the sometimes cringe-worthy expository dialogue risks undoing the film's abstract mystery, as well as exposing the amateurishness of some of the performances.

That said, there is more than enough imagination here to fill several features, and yet it is all kept in the service of the narrative. Written, directed, scored and edited by Winans, who co-produced with his wife Kiowa (also the film's art director, costume and sound designer), Ink veers from amiably off-kilter to out-and-out impressive - and while it failed to find a studio distributor, it was illegally downloaded in BitTorrent an incredible 40,000 times in a single week, securing itself a considerable fanbase through word-of-mouth alone.

Perhaps the film's overall success is encapsulated in one particular standout sequence. For as Jacob is shown tuning in to "the beat of the world" and orchestrating the formation of a single, life-changing moment in time, Winans brings together every aspect of a filmmaker's craft to carry off this complex scene with dizzying verve – and it becomes clear, at least momentarily, that Winans himself is the film's real miracle-working storyteller.

Reviewed on: 14 Apr 2011
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A father and daughter finds themselves caught up in a battle for human souls by the keepers of dreams and nightmares.
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