This film was a very pleasant surprise.
In most cases, trying to make an effective sci-fi movie on a miniscule budget is like trying to make a romantic gourmet meal with Armour hot dogs. Ink is a welcome exception, as Denver director Jamin Winans uses every cent to create a captivating sci-fi thriller that evolves into an engaging allegory about loss and redemption.
Two separate worlds are presented in the same story: In the "real" world, John (Chris Kelly), a successful but clearly stressed and unhappy business executive, learns that his 8-year-old daughter, Emma (Quinn Hunchar, in a strong performance), is in a coma. John is a widower who, due to a drug problem, lost custody of Emma to his late wife's parents. In the spirit world, we learn that there in an ongoing battle between forces of good (shown as young, attractive people who happen to be good at martial arts) and evil (eerie, distorted-faced creatures clad in black leather). These forces continually battle for our souls through our dreams.
Emma is captured in the spirit world by a ragged, deformed figure known as Ink. His aim: to turn over the soul of the child to the forces of evil in order to become one of them. The good forces follow in a desperate attempt to save the child but learn that her only hope rests in the real world with John.
Not all of the film quite works. It is guilty of over-editing at times; for instance, lightning-quick cuts at a board room meeting are meant to convey John's disheveled state of mind but draw too much attention to themselves (and can make the viewer a little dizzy). Furthermore, save for two notable characters, sightless tracker Jacob (Jeremy Make) and maternal Liev (Jessica Duffy), the forces of good are neither particularly interesting nor engaging.
Still, Ink is an impressive film worth seeing. The special effects are quite effective (especially, again, for such a low-budget effort), most notably the appearance of the evil forces: their faces are projected onto a flat screen and distorted into rather hideous grins (definitely the stuff of nightmares). More importantly, Winans knows how to let the effects enhance the story, not get in the way of it (something Hollywood big-shots often forget). I must also point out a key moment in the middle of the film, where Jacob sets off a chain of events to put Emma's rescue in motion. The beautifully choreographed sequence is worth the price of admission alone.
How the stories converge, and the revelation of who Ink really is, I dare not spoil, but I will say this: the ending genuinely moved me. I definitely did not expect to be moved by this film, but I was.
Such familiar sci-fi dream landscapes as The Matrix and Terry Gilliam's Brazil echo here, but Ink most recalls Brad Anderson's underrated The Machinist. In both films, a main character unbearably and physically burdened by guilt is jarringly thrust back and forth between the "real" world and an alternate universe created by his guilt. Nonetheless, the universe created by Ink is still uniquely its own.
After seeing such an impressive effort, I sincerely hope that Winans gets a shot in Hollywood. If he can make such an enthralling film as Ink on a low budget, he deserves a chance to see what he can do with a bigger one.
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