Home » Movies Revisited » The 23rd Birthday Retrospective » Ink


I first heard about Ink, as most fans of the movie did, from this review on Ain’t it Cool News. Intrigued, I saw the trailer and learned that the movie would shortly be coming to Portland.

I attended the Portland premiere at the Hollywood Theater, July 24th of 2009. Also in attendance was director/producer/writer/composer/editor/VFX artist Jamin Winans and his producer/sound designer/costume designer/art director/VFX artist/wife, Kiowa. They took a brief video snapshot of the audience, saying that it would be shown on the DVD (I’d later learn that it wasn’t), and introduced the movie. They took questions afterward — we had a ton of them — and encouraged us to spread the word. After getting their autographs on a promotional postcard, I responded by plugging for the movie in every one of my Facebook status updates for a solid week.

I was determined to see this movie again and to bring someone else with me. I did just that before the Hollywood Theater run ended, bringing my dad and sister with me. A few months later, I went to visit my sister at Grinnell and Ink was coincidentally playing there at the time. She wasn’t able to join me for that showing, but both of my parents obligingly accompanied me. Now, I have the DVD — autographed by Jamin Winans — and I remain determined as ever to preach the word of Ink.

As with Dark City, I’m loathe to give a synopsis of the film because so much of it would ruin the film if told ahead of time. Suffice to say that in Ink, there are two sides locked in eternal conflict over our souls. On one side are the ethereal Storytellers, who work to enrich our lives by giving good dreams. On the other side are the emotionless Incubi, who attempt to corrupt us by way of nightmares. In between is a broken and pathetic creature called Ink, who steals a little girl’s soul so that he may sacrifice her as payment to become an Incubus. The rest of it you can learn here. You might have to watch the movie a few times to see it, but everything you really need to know about the story is in that opening scene.

The talent and effort that went into this film is amazing. It was made for a mere $250,000 and it looks like $25 million. The costuming and makeup are amazing in their detail. Color tints are smartly used to tell which universe the film is presently in. The VFX are sparingly used and quite effective. The camera work and editing are both sensational. These visuals work together with a screenplay that wonderfully balances exposition with implication to create a living, breathing world with endless scope and clearly understandable rules, all on a budget of a quarter-million dollars.

The action scenes are… well, they’re interesting. Each character has his/her own distinctive grappling style and some have favorite weapons to match. The fight choreography is phenomenal and neatly augmented by the occasional VFX shot. But what really makes the fight scenes cool is the editing. Winans shoots his fight sequences in a way that would make Zack Snyder stand up and take notice. Fast-forward, freeze frame, slo-mo… every editing trick in the book is used in novel ways to make the fights that much more awesome. Unfortunately, a lot of fight scenes are also shot in shaky-cam, which can really obscure what’s going on.

The cast is populated entirely by unknowns out of Denver and I consider it positively criminal that none of them have careers in Hollywood. In a fair universe, Jennifer Batter — playing Allel, the story’s central Storyteller — would have had the career that went to Kate Beckinsale. She’s got the action chops, she can do comedy, she’s got a great emotional range and she has a very unique beauty.

Speaking of beauties, there’s Jessica Duffy as the Storytellers’ de facto leader, Liev (it’s pronounced “leave,” which is rather confusing in a particular scene). Duffy is given a very unglamorous role as her character is subjected to all manner of defeats and humiliations, but she goes through it all with amazing strength, stunning grace and a sharp wit. Also, her voice is so soothing and so matronly that I think it might actually work as a nightmare deterrent in real life.

Rounding out the movie’s actresses is Quinn Hunchar, playing the kidnapped Emma. This girl is a real find. At the start of the movie, she’s energetic and instantly likable. The character is stuck in permanent “damsel in distress” gear for the rest of the movie, but Hunchar consistently works with Winans to keep Emma fresh, sympathetic and developing as a character.

As for the movie’s male cast, there’s Chris Kelly as Emma’s father, John. As the unknowing key to rescuing his daughter, the entire movie rests on Kelly’s shoulders and he carries it beautifully. Kelly and Winans take us through John’s entire life, which is not an easy thing for an actor. Yet Kelly does it beautifully. John gets a ton of character development and every second of his arc is amazing to watch.

Next is Jeremy Make, playing my favorite character in the movie: A blind and sarcastic Pathfinder named Jacob. In this movie, Make beautifully balances comedy with drama. There’s clearly an intelligence to Jacob, but there’s no way of knowing how much dementia is covering it. Make is amazing to watch in this movie not just because he’s laugh-out-loud funny, but also because he always keeps everyone guessing. Additionally, Jacob is the centerpiece of the “chain reaction” scene midway through the movie. This scene is perhaps the most pivotal in the movie and it’s a staggering work of cinema all it’s own.

An honorable mention is due to Steve Sealy, playing John’s father-in-law. He doesn’t appear for long, but damned if he doesn’t act beautifully off of Kelly. The guy makes an amazing impression, delivering a wonderful performance built from a small amount of screen time.

Then there’s the score. Holy shit. The score is surprisingly simplistic, but inspired in its use of percussive beats and gorgeous in its use of various string instruments, particularly the piano. This is a score somewhere between orchestral and electronic. A score that haunts and uplifts. The score is amazing on its own, but it does wonders in the context of the movie itself.

By now, it should be obvious that I totally love Ink. I love the presentation, I love the cast and I love the creativity of its story. Most of all, I love that it’s an independent feature. This movie is a shining example of what can be done when talented people get together and make a movie, multimillion-dollar budgets and the MPAA be damned. To the amateur film-makers reading this (I know at least a couple of you are out there), watch the movie and be inspired.

The DVD, Blu-Ray and soundtrack are all for sale here. Amazon and iTunes offer them for purchase as well and the movie can be rented through Netflix and Blockbuster. If you’d rather see Ink for free, you can watch it on Hulu or torrent it with the filmmakers’ full blessing.

With all of these options, you have no excuse not to watch Ink. I don’t care how you see it, just see it.

One Comment

  1. Comment by Bill Berk:

    I have never been a big fan of independent films. I generally find the characters overwrought, and inconsistent in their motivations. I am also not a big fan of sequels, but this movie leaves me begging for one that will never happen.

    I loved this movie. The film is complete enough that it needs no follow-up. It doesn’t even leave me wondering what happens later to the characters. But they are so well acted and so appealing, I just want to spend more time in the theater with them. I don’t say that about a movie very often.

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