Mike Does Ink

You know the downward spiral is essentially a chain reaction.

The Scoop: 2009 unrated, directed by Jamin Winans and starring Christopher Soren Kelly, Quinn Hunchar and Jessica Duffy

Tagline: As the light fades and the city goes to sleep, two forces emerge. They are invisible except for the power they exert over us in our sleep, battling for our souls through dreams.

Summary Capsule: Dream people and Nightmare people fight for possession of a little girl, while her father unknowingly battles for his own soul.

Mike’s Rating: *Not* the life story of a laserjet printer.

Mike’s Review: Most people think that fairy tales are strictly princesses, unicorns, happy endings and fluffy sunshine puppy-rainbows. The protagonist is good-hearted and pure, the antagonist is truly evil. The good guys always win and everyone lives happily ever after in a magical kingdom of bright pastel colors taken right off a Candyland board. Yes it’s safe to say that fairy tales are viewed by most as solely the realm of harmless kid stuff.

These people are misinformed.

Real fairy tales, like those put forth by Roald Dahl, the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, are very much the stuff of nightmares. Murderous step-parents, children abducted and devoured,  witches, ogres, ghouls, rape, cannibalism, shoes made of glass. The heroes are sometimes as ruthless and bloodthirsty as the villains, and while the hero may come out ahead in the end, there’s sure to be a price paid. Red Riding Hood may get away, but there’s no getting around the fact that her Grandma is now wolf-chow.

Ink falls directly into this category of dark fairy tales, with modern day trappings and an unconventional storytelling approach, but with the same feeling of wonder and foreboding you might get walking into a Grimm’s fairy tale.

At night, appearing out of thin air, a group of guardian angel types dressed like the cast of Rent come in through people’s windows. They’re called Storytellers and their job is to give people good dreams. On the other side of the spectrum are the Incubi, unsettling figures with strange constantly flickering TV screen masks displaying ghoulishly smiling faces. They’re in charge of the nightmares. One night, a dark figure dressed in tattered robes and chains, grabs the soul of a little girl named Emma, fights his way through a group of Storytellers, and makes his way to a sort of limbo betwen the dream world and the real world. The Creature, called Ink, hopes to trade the girl’s soul to the ominous-sounding “Assembly” for admission into the Incubus club. Now it’s up to Allel, the Storyteller who lost Emma, along with Jacob, a sarcastic and slightly unhinged “Pathfinder” to try and save her in the real world, hoping to somehow wake her up despite their inability to affect the real world physically.  Meanwhile Emma’s estranged father John is  informed that Emma’s fallen into a coma, but refuses to visit her, instead focusing solely on the multi-million dollar contract slipping through his fingers.

This film has very rightly been compared with other science fiction and fantasy classics like The City of Lost Children, The Matrix and Dark City; intelligent thinking man’s films that work on an abundance of intellectual levels. Visually there’s a lot to take in. The Incubi are sufficiently creepy with their flickering screen faces, but when they remove their masks and their glasses glow eerily they look disturbingly otherworldly and malicious. The feel of the dream world inhabited by the Storytellers and Incubi is nicely articulated through use of color and light, a wonder given the limited budget of the production.  In the dream world, color is muted to the point of being almost black and white, and certain scenes where you can visibly see reality crumble around John as he slowly loses his grip on his life, as  understated as they are, serve as a distinct example as to how visual effects can be used to articulate a metaphor and not just as eye-candy. Jacob as a visual character is interesting as well. A blind pathfinder, he has electrical tape crosses over his eyes, reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s CIA Sands character in Once Upon a Time in Mexico or any number of eyeless Guillermo Del Toro creations.

The emotion of the film is also nicely handled. At it’s heart the film is essentially a story of a father and daughter’s broken relationship after personal tragedy and  character flaws have driven them apart, and while this carries the emotional weight of the film nicely, every character is given subtle and nuanced chances for development. The exchanges between Allel, a fighter with a bit of a chip on her shoulder, and Jacob, a mythological figure to the mythological figures, are interesting without getting obnoxious or bogged down. The story is told non-linearly, but is not so fractured that it interferes with the audience’ ability to understand it, and while the metaphors are many, they aren’t completely inexplicable. The characters don’t engage in unnecessary exposition and  there’s no superfluous narration to insult the audience. The story builds upon itself gradually and draws you in at it’s own pace, and while I saw the final revelation coming, it didn’t take away from the emotional impact of it.

There are problems of course. The acting is good but never really crosses over to being great, with the possible exception of Chris Kelly’s portrayal of John. While Jacob is visually an interesting character, the acting doesn’t really take him to the levels that that would have made the character great. The kid playing Emma is cute but not given much to do outside of an opening scene (where admittedly she’s remarkably natural). While it’s well thought out, and extremely well executed, it’s still an indie flick, and the low production values may be a distraction at times.
It’s not perfect, but Ink ultimately accomplishes what it sets out to do, and delivers an unsettling, creepy, intelligent yet emotionally resonant contemporary fairy tale. Definitely worth a rent.

Do not pass out at the circus, or you might wake up to this.


  • Jamin Winans not only wrote, edited and directed the film, but also composed the soundtrack.  Jamin’s wife Kiowa handled both sound design and art direction as well as serving as producer.
  • The movie was made for only $250,000.
  • Ink won the Best International Feature award at the Cancun Film Festival.
  • Despite faring well on the festival circuit, Ink was not picked up by a distributor; the producers self-distributed the movie to a few cinemas and oversaw the DVD and Blu-ray releases themselves.
  • After its DVD release, Ink was downloaded 400,000 times, becoming one of the ten most pirated features of the week of its release alongside major Hollywood films like Zombieland.
  • The  filmmakers wrote in their newsletter that they had “embraced the piracy” and are “happy Ink is getting unprecedented exposure”, but also requested voluntary donations from those who watched the movie for free.

Groovy Quotes

Emma: Don’t be a putz.
John: “Putz.” I worked 80 hours this week, what did you do?

Jacob: Is it standard procedure to lose adorable little girls out of their own bedrooms?

Emma: Roar!

Jacob: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4…

Allel: How are you able to do what you do?
Jacob:  It’s all about the beat. God may have taken my sight, but I can still see the beat.

Jacob: We’ll have to get to the physical body.
Allel: …and then what?
Jacob:  We shake the $#!t out of her!!! Hahahaha! …..We wake her up.

Incubi: No more shame… pride is what we are made of.

Jacob: 1, 2, 3, Branch! 1, 2, 3, Branch!

Jacob: You know the downward spiral is essentially a chain reaction.
Allel: Nothing that comes out of your mouth makes any sense.
Jacob: THEY’RE ALL REACTIONS! One thing begets the next. A man has a weakness, he’s flawed. That flaw leads him to guilt. The guilt leads him to shame. The shame he compensates for with pride and vanity…and when pride fails, despair takes over and they all lead to his destruction. It will become his fate.  Something’s gotta stop the flow.

If You Liked This Movie, Try:

  • Donnie Darko
  • Brazil
  • Anything by Neil Gaiman or Guillermo Del Toro


  1. I’m with bigtuna. Thanks for telling me about this. It’s available on Netflix instant play, so I gave it a watch last night. My husband and I both really enjoyed it. I watched the movie first and then read this review today. You captured everything that I was thinking and feeling about the movie. Great job!

  2. Amazing movie, and it makes you wonder if more great fantasy films would be made if studios were limited in their budgets (and forced to focus on, you know, story, characters, pacing, etc). Imagine what new Star Wars could have been with this kind of writing.

    The film Ink reminded me of the most, and that I use when referring friends to it, is Pan’s Labrynth, which has a similar real-fantasy world split. I loved Ink far more than Pan, however, and the “big reveal” (which I personally did not see coming) almost made me cry.

    And by the way, I both donated money and actually ordered the movie after downloading it for free. Ink blew me away and I thought the filmmakers deserved the support.

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