On the surface, Jamin Winan’s Ink is about a father (played by an intense Christopher Soren Kelly) who is too consumed by his work to pay attention to his daughter. On a different level of reality, it’s also about invisible warriors, called Storytellers, who visit us at night and bring us our dreams. There’s also a different group of nightly dream warriors, the Incubi, whose flat, terrifying, leering faces are all we need to know that these are the bringer of nightmares. It gets weirder. A lumbering, caped, long-nosed monster named Ink kidnaps a girl from our world, upsetting the balance of varying dimensions. A group of Storytellers band together for a rescue mission.
Here is an original, beautifully designed fantasy, with elements of action, real-world drama, and horror blended in. This Colorado-made indie was a homegrown smash in 2009, amassing a healthy cult following and, at one point, becoming one of the most pirated films online. Today, it can be found on streaming services and viewed legally. Sometimes, the big story of a DIY movie is simply that it got made in the first place. Here, the making and legacy behind Ink is noteworthy (the director first turned heads with his stunning short film “Spin,” one of the earliest YouTube smashes) but it’s the film itself that stuns.
As a movie, it’s an engrossing spellbinder. Yet, Ink is also a testament to the power of imagination and how, when it comes to creating movie magic, clever filmmaking can overcome budgetary restraints. This is an independently made work in which the director had complete control over his vision. Most importantly, his screenplay is dynamic, clever, and compelling.
In a cast of unknowns, Kelly is up to the considerable challenges of his role and Jennifer Duffy is terrific playing an ethereal, matronly figure.
Because the story is complex, building on characters and ideas, it requires the viewer to pay attention and go all in. By the end, your patience is rewarded by Winans’ emotionally charged, deeply satisfying conclusion. Every scene has a purpose and adds another narrative brick of world building and layered characterizations. Moments that initially seem confusing come together cleverly in the end.
Not every performance is stellar, as the injection of whimsy sometimes brings out the hammy side of the actors. Because it’s visually so wondrous, Winans’ film has been compared to the works of Terry Gilliam but Ink is akin to that filmmaker in a richer way than mere optics: like Gilliam, Winans has a gift for sudden tonal shifts that don’t derail his thoughtful plotting. Jumps in time and through different worlds are indicated through varying color hues and lensing techniques. For a movie that didn’t cost all that much to make, the grandness of the scope isn’t just impressive, it’s downright inspiring.
Ink is unrated but likely an R, due to language and a few brutal fight scenes. If you’re looking for a richly crafted fantasy, a grown-up fairy tale, an action movie with big ideas and cool special effects, or genre-defining entertainment that will captivate from start to finish, look no further. (On Amazon Prime)
Not Rated/107 Min.
A Comedy Sleeper: When writer/director/star Rusty Cundieff’s Fear of a Black Hat premiered, it was met with great acclaim but no audience. Cundieff’s mockumentary on a fictitious rap group, N.W.H. (the H stands for “Hats”), was barely released when it was vershadowed by Chris Rock’s similar but inferior CB4. Cundieff’s comedy is very of its time and works best for those who remember PM Dawn, C+C Music Factory, Black Box, MC Hammer, and the early days of gangsta rap. It’s frequently outrageous and vulgar, and is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Cundieff was later a writer and director on “Chappelle’s Show.” Enough said. (On Amazon Prime)
Under the Radar Documentary: Roger Ross Williams’ Life, Animated is a documentary about Owen Suskind, a boy with autism whose parents find a surprising means of connection – through learning the dialog and characters of Disney movies, Suskind’s impenetrable shell is broken. Suskind’s parents build on their means to communicate and Suskind gradually shares his love for Disney movies with his community. It gets even more surprising. Here’s a documentary that tells an always-absorbing story and blends animation with moving footage and family interviews. Like Suskind himself, Life, Animated is one of a kind. (On Hulu and Kanopy)
Photos courtesy IMDB