ndependent films tend to be filled with a self-aggrandizing sense of overindulgence. Granted, they’re usually redolent with the blood, sweat, and credit card receipts of the filmmakers, and free from the strictures and marketing hammer of the studios. There’s a certain air of free-range creativity. More often than not, this results in torrid navel-gazing where characters stare out windows and talk in haiku, like a brood of Alice in Wonderland characters complaining about their sedentary lives. Poorly lit, cheaply cobbled together, and narcissistically autobiographical, most indie films rarely bother to go beyond post-collegiate moaning.
Then along came Jamin Winans with his stunning Ink. An urban fairy tale set against a phantasmagoria of nightmares and dreamscapes that offers up a challenge to other independent filmmakers as to the limitless potential of the digicam. The plot is deeply flawed and thoroughly, fucktardedly baffling, but I admire the hell out of how he went about it. It’s visually arresting, mindblowingly original, and completely fucking stupid. All my dislikes are personal preference; I was floored by how Winans shot his film. I didn’t like Ink, but I wish more independent filmmakers would fuck up like this.
When we sleep, there are supposedly two forces fighting over us: a group of good guys that clothe themselves like hipster pirates called Storytellers who give us happy dreams and the sinister nightmare-slinging Incubuses, clad like nerdy Cenobites in leather aprons with black geek specs behind a plastic face screen that makes them go all staticky. They leer with Black Hole Sun grins and spread shadows as opposed to the light flashes and glows of the Storytellers. Enter Ink, an Incubus in training draped in rags and chains with a monster schnoz to rival even Gonzo. He physically snatches up a little blonde girl named Emma and steals her away to some sort of bleak, in-between world that looks like a new wave 80’s video industrial landscape. I was waiting for Bono to explain the plot with words on white cards. For some reason, he needs to go to gather “Assembly code panels” from nasty folks who are neither Storytellers nor Incubi in order to sacrifice the little girl and become a full-blooded Incubus.
Meanwhile, the good guys have enlisted the help of Jacob, a Pathfinder, who wears black electrical tape X’s over his blinded eyes and jives to the beat of the cosmos. In order to save the little girl, they must go into the real world and enlist the help of her father John, a prick bastard stockbroker or some sort of financial dillweed. By help, I mean, they convince Jacob to set off a Final Destinationesque butterfly effect that causes the father to be in a car accident. Lost yet? It sort of becomes this weird messed-up fairytale with lots of convoluted plot twists and characters that make fuck-all sense. I respect the fact that he’s letting the audience tease out the story, but there’s too much vaguery. It’s mind-numbingly simple and overly complicated at the same time, which tends to flare up asspain when dealing with any sort of fantasy/science-fiction universe. But it sure does look nifty. Again, the same problems of style over substance that plagued The Fall and Mirrormask do their little hippie dance here. Some folks find it stunning and touching and breathtaking. Some folks think Scions look awesome.
The dialogue is the major problem. The characters from the dream world patter in an almost Tolkeinish formality, as if everything they say is profound rather than prosaic. And the real world dialogue is even worse. It’s like someone scribbled swear words on some random pages from “As the World Turns.” There’s no way any of the dialogue was improvised, because nobody would say this shit on accident. This is then coupled with fight sequences that look like dress rehearsal for Medieval Times.
The magic of Ink is the visual acumen and the ballsy way Winans is able to stretch his home-movie grade story. The cast is what one would expect: nobody you’ve heard of overacting their way through their pal’s script. I’m not going to lambaste them; they do a suitable job with the material. What elevates the film to awe-inspiring levels, and I cannot nearly say enough about this, is the look. With washed-out tones and bleak lighting, Winans helps balance which world the plane shifting characters are inhabiting. Nothing’s ever in full color, but rather sepias or grainy blue-tone. The Storytellers are able to wink in and out of dreams by suddenly popping up with a flashbulb effect. The Incubi steal the show with their weird Stepford Dark City grins and the shimmery static viewscreens. When they remove the screens, the black-rimmed glasses light up like ocular high-beams, which make later chase sequences all the more harrowing. Winans suffers from a slight overuse of blurred frames and strange editing, but his film has a unique and exciting feel. For me, it was like going to a dreary Goth art show. I admire the artistry, while I hate the actual content.
People should see Ink because I desperately want to support his efforts, even if I don’t necessarily dig the message. I’d take a low-budget Dark City knock-off over a thirty-something with daddy issues trying to find herself any day. Winans has something to say and his voice deserves to be heard. This movie will probably impress the hell out of Pajibans, even if I felt it to be muddled and pretentious. And it’s going to be a bitch and a bear to find, so good luck with that.