VOD Review: Ink
Ink is an incredibly interesting tale of mystical forces vying for a young girl’s soul. While it almost reaches the pinnacle of weird and wild fantasy, it falls just short of glory.
It’s been quite some time since I tackled a story like Ink. Reminiscent of tales like Labyrinth or Twice Upon a Time, it is a strange tale told in a delightfully weird style. Strong visuals and a well crafted soundtrack paper over ramshackle pacing. The acting is solid and the premise is interesting, but Ink is just not quite all there. The lack of coherence is constantly battling all the other great elements, like some kind of bucking bronco trying to shake you loose. The amount of intellectual energy required to keep up with Ink knocks it out the winner’s circle, but it is a fascinating experiment in cinema that is worth a look.
Emma is a young girl living with her grandparents in suburbia. Emma’s mother passed away, and her father John is a work-obsessed sociopath. It wasn’t always this way, and Emma has dreams of the time when both her parents were around. These dreams come from a group of mystical parkour enthusiasts (called Story Tellers), who appear at night and visit the sleeping people. Nighttime brings terror as well as bliss, however, as the Incubi appear at night as well. They perform the opposite task: they infiltrate people’s houses, and any who have the Incubi’s shadow fall over them have terrible nightmares.
This balance is broken one night when Ink, a creature unaffiliated with either side steals Emma’s soul in an attempt to offer it to the Incubi. The forces of good recruit Jacob a pathfinder: a supernatural person with the ability to see the hidden connections that influence causality. Jacob realizes that to save Emma’s soul, he must first save John’s. Meanwhile Ink begins assembling a device that will allow him to travel to the home of the Incubi. The two sides race against time, with both John and Emma’s souls in the balance.
The Dream Warriors
The opening third of Ink is all over the place. We cut from Emma to John, from the past to the present, from real world to the world that appears while we sleep. It would be a chaotic and off-putting affair if not for every other aspect of the film. The acting is good (and very diverse: bonus!). The cinematography is intrigueing: not exactly amateur, but not quite AAA. It has a bold use of color and an almost piercing crispness to the film. The soundtrack was good on average, but it was exceptional in this first segment, and it kept my interest when other aspects of the film were trying to lose me.
It also had some interesting action, in that all the “good-dream-team” were parkour enthusiasts. When they converged on Ink to attempt to foil his kidnapping, I got a very “The Matrix” vibe. Each had their own fighting style… plus parkour. The main protagonist Allel (Jennifer Batter) used a staff/baton based Wushu, Gabe (Eme Ikwauakor) was a brawler, and there were various other styles thrown in. It was both unexpected and fun, in the weird kind of way that seems to define this movie.
You Remind Me of the (movie about the) Babe….
The middle section slows down, and starts to resemble Labyrinth. Jacob is a petulant and cocky guide for Allel and her friends. The way he leads them around by the nose mirrors the way the director Jamin Winans tells his tale: he knows where we are headed, but is loath to let us know directly.
Meanwhile, Ink has his own problems. He must search out some odd characters who possess the ability to repair his means of traveling to the Incubi. He also must contend with Liev, a Story Teller who tracked him down on her own. Not only is she a capable fighter, Liev has an interest in redeeming Ink as well as rescuing Emma. Ink must now deal with an unwanted Jiminy Crickett, who is constantly questioning his motives and searching for an explanation as to why Ink is determined to do evil.
The locales, strange characters, and quest-like nature of the middle section, while more normal in it’s science-fantasy trappings, was a little less interesting. It got a lot more talky, and the visuals and score settled down. This had the effect of making this segment stand on it’s story merits, and it was not as strong as the first bit.
Everything returns to form at the climax. The score and wild visuals are back, as well as a heaping helping of action. The emotional beats of the final arc are a little overwrought, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. I was on the fence about Chris Kelly, the actor who plays John as well as Ink. He brings it home at the end, and while it wasn’t perfect, he get’s a passing grade. The only thing I didn’t care for was that Emma becomes less a person, and more a prize to be won. Despite Liev insisting that Emma is a “lioness”, it was disappointing that John got the lion’s share of the story.
Ink was a delightful callback to the creative and daring fantasy stories that seem to be in short supply these days. In fact, if Valerian had been half as willing as Ink to just bask in the opulence and absurdity of itself, I’d probably have enjoyed it. The story in Ink was a slight wrinkle on themes and stories that have been told elsewhere, but it certainly had confidence in it’s telling. While it shares visual ideas with other movies (I’d eat my hat if Winans hadn’t seen the Matrix, and I’d be very surprised if Twice Upon a Time had never crossed his path), it once again shows confidence.
While not a perfect movie, I was dazzled by a film that had such courage in its convictions. Everything in this movie felt honest and earnest. In a world of cynical cash grabs and safe septic blockbusters, Ink was a breath of fresh air. I’m now officially intrigued with Jamin Winans, and I will try and get my hands on his 2014 film, The Frame.