Review by Bryan Swan (A-)
In the current fold, the typical trend in Hollywood is to churn out highly profitable, flashy films with not a whole lot of substance and then market the hell out of them. Case and point, see: The Twilight Saga's New Moon. Every now and then, one or two of these types of movies are actually really good (James Cameron's Avatar being the most recent example), but though there are more independent films being made than ever, the sheer size of the Hollywood juggernaut keeps them well out of the grasp of viewers who don't actually go out of their way to look for them. But every now and then, a truly innovative and original film comes along and stirs up interest amid the core of movie cultists and starts spreading like wildfire.
Cue Jamin Winans' evocative near-masterpiece Ink, a highly stylized urban scifi-fantasy epic that, on the surface, chronicles a band of Storytellers - benevolent beings who come to our world to influence our dreams - who are trying to stop a creature known just as Ink from sacrificing a human girl to the evil Incubi (who, counter to the Storytellers, give us nightmares) so that he become one of them. Yet beneath the surface, the film is really a multi-faceted tale of one man's struggle with his own emotions and internal conflicts after losing his wife in a car crash, and how his decisions have or will influence his life. The story can literally be interpreted in half a dozen different ways, which is what struck me as most poignant and captivating about this movie. Really not since Richard Kelly's essential Donnie Darko has a movie so fluidly told a story that its true meaning can be interpreted so many different ways.
But not only does the story stand out as one of the most creative I've encountered in years, but the filmmaking itself is absolutely top notch for such a small production. Despite the restrictions of a $250,000 budget, Ink is a remarkably well polished movie. Stylistically there are traces of influence from films by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, The Fountain), Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Brazil) and Dave McKean (Mirrormask), but Ink is visually unique in and of itself. Much of the film is heavily filtered and colorized to depict the different realities witnessed, and though such techniques can very easily go too far, director Winans has done a masterful job at balancing style with substance. The fight scenes between the Storytellers and the Incubi, while a little choppy and spastic, are well choreographed, tense and about as believable as one can expect from a small budget film like this - if not slightly more so. The special effects, ranging from the Storytellers porting between worlds to the basic yet remarkably creepy faces of the Incubi are very well done and lend much of the polish to the film despite their simplicity. Cap all this with a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack composed by Winans, and the film takes on a very evocative persona.
Ink, however, is not a perfect film. The restrictions of a small budget are noticeable in the acting talent employed throughout - in some places more than others. Chris Kelly and Jessica Duffy play their respective parts as John and Liev well enough and many of the various smaller parts are convincing, but the only real standout performance is that of six year old Quinn Hunchar's Emma, despite her understandably limited emotional output. Yet despite the largely unpolished acting, the script and storytelling are done so well that the few noticeably amateurish moments of dialog aren't important and don't detract enough from the film to think less of it as a whole.
With the caveat that Ink is not a film which everyone will enjoy in mind; some may find the editing to be distracting, some may view the complexities and subtexts of the story to be self indulgent and preachy (to which I say go watch GI Joe instead), and some may find the pacing to be too slow (the first half hour could have been done a little better), those who look for movies which take a ‘form over function' approach to story telling are bound to be pleased with Ink.
Though the ghost thriller Paranormal Activity stormed theaters from the indie camp with great applaud late last year to establish itself as probably the most well known ‘little' film of 2009, not since the intelligently written time-travel drama Primer has a low budget film excelled so well as Ink. It's truly unfortunate that a studio could not be found to distribute Ink, because I feel it should justly be recognized as one of the year's best films and with a little more public exposure it might have stood a chance to make an appearance at the Oscars come award season. Let's hope it gains enough of a cult following that it can eventually gain the recognition it deserves.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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