Sleep, those little slices of death — how I loathe them.
Edgar Allen Poe
We’ve said it before, and no doubt will again because that’s how we roll – the sleepy sphere of the subconscious is rich and abundant with science fiction and fantasy potential. A certain celebrated cenobite described human dreams as “fertile grounds for sowing the seeds of torment”, and the imagination behind 2009’s micro-budgeted SF Fantasy Ink was fertile indeed. In a sub-genre usually dominated by epics such as Inception, this criminally overlooked effort is well worth re-visiting.
Ink was the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Jamin and Kiowa Winins, produced on a shoestring price tag of just $250,000; not that you’d know to look at it. This is one of the most ambitious genre projects of recent years, densely plotted and packed with visual power – and arguably the closest thing we’ll ever get to seeing Neil Gaiman’s celebrated Sandman series on the screen – Ink plays out like some kind of hybrid of Dark City, and Night Watch.
The movie revolves around the battle for the soul of a young girl. On an alternative plane to ours, warring factions do battle via our midnight movies; Storytellers, noble warriors who fill our minds with sweet dreams, and the terrifying, face-shielding Incubi, who disturb our rest with nightmares. These dream sequences are thoroughly striking, alternating between the hilarious and heart-warming (a middle-aged woman watches her weight drop steadily on a set of scales whilst simultaneously munching on a chocolate cake, a young boy achieves unstoppable sporting prowess) to the unsettling (a man tosses and turns while berated as a failure by his wife). Enter the title character, a dream-drifter with a conk that would put Cyrano de Bergerac to shame, and a determination to steal the soul of the innocent young Emma (an astonishing debut performance from child actress Quinn Hunchar).
To reveal more about the fantastical elements of Ink would destroy so many of its pleasures, but needless to say the plot enjoys more twists and turns than a plate of spaghetti, blending dystopian science fiction with Legend-style fantasy, wrapped around familial drama and tensions. Holding everything together on the latter plane is businessman John, a suit-and-tie sporting everyman who, after opening the movie with an insinuated firing from his job, holds the attention throughout. The father of Emma, John initially seems a reluctant Dad, refusing to get his hands dirty and engage in play with his imaginative offspring, but his clear and evident love for his daughter drives the narrative of Ink, even as his life falls apart around him.
As we’ve already suggested though, whilst the script is strong and engrossing and the acting surprisingly good for such a bargain-basement production, this is visual storytelling par excellence. Opening with a bang and rarely looking back, the battle scenes between Storytellers and Incubi puts most blockbuster fencing to shame. Managing to remain brutal without resorting to bloodiness, and maintaining a tense air of high stakes throughout the eyeball-saucering effects of destruction and instant repair of everyday household items, this is some of the finest fencing seen on-screen since Star Wars. Meanwhile the design of Ink himself, modelled on the witch from Disney’s Snow White, is a visual treat, and every inch the bogeyman.
Aside from events unfolding on-screen, Ink also adds an interesting dimension to the piracy debate. DragonDark know where we stand on this most thorny of subjects and it’s an argument for another time, but the comments of Jamin Winins from a 2011 interview with Eye for Film are fascinating.
The indie world has really taken a blood bath in the last few years and we were really well read about the many problems filmmakers were having. In particular, we came to realise that the greatest threat to indie films wasn’t piracy, but rather obscurity. There are so many films being made now that it’s simply difficult to be seen.
We didn’t have any money for marketing Ink and though we had some real success building a fan base screening by screening, we were still moving at a snail’s pace. When Ink hit The Pirate Bay and it blew up overnight I was initially in shock because I had no idea why the hell it was blowing up. But my shock immediately turned to joy because I realised that Ink would no longer be obscure.
As a result of the piracy our sales went up and we got incredible exposure we never would have gotten otherwise. So my opinion on the matter hasn’t changed. We’re thrilled it happened the way it did and above all else we’re thrilled to have fans.
The debate of exposure in the face of authority is one that could run and run, and there’s no denying that Winins deserves credit to embracing what is now, regardless of personal perspective, a major factor in the industry. Unfortunately it’s difficult to argue in favour of Ink’s explosion opening a host of doors for this talented visionary, as his post-2009 CV continues to consist of small passion projects. That said, this may be just the way he likes it.
These days, Ink is easy to obtain legally. The movie is now available on DVD in the UK, boasting a small but interesting number of extra features (HD hounds will have to break the bank for a US Blu-ray import), while it’s viewable via the usual subscription streaming services. This ease of access means that any genre fan yet to experience this lucid fantasy is in for one heck of a treat. Ink is the ultimate triumph of imagination over actuality, and by far and away one of the finest low-budget science fiction films of recent years.