“Ink” (2009)

This one is for my good friend Greg, who in his old age seems less interested in scaring me (formerly his raison d’être) than he is in reducing me to a blubbering puddle of weep. I’m not sure at what stage in a man’s life he trades in the disembowelments and boobsplosions (cue mysterious guitar riff) and cashes in his  sensitivity chips, but Greg seems to have reached that point. Here’s to you, sir.

None of that is meant as a criticism, by the way. I’ve got feelings too, dammit. Somewhere. It’s just, damn, man… EVERYBODY KNOWS I’M THE WEEPY ONE. THEY DO NOT NEED TO BE REMINDED.

Alright, I didn’t actually cry at the end of Ink, though I certainly experienced the upsurge of “awwwwww” that the producers were clearly gunning for. In that sense, right out of the gate, the movie was a success. I can’t help but feel a little manipulated by it, though. While all works of fiction intend to get some sort of emotional response (or why bother?), most don’t hold your hand and walk you through the steps of grief the way Ink does. But I chalk that up to the very, very indieness of the film. Indie productions are great, but by definition, limited in resources. Ink is an example of an uber-indie film that suffers a bit from its lack of polish–but makes up for it in heart.

D’awwwwww.

Okay, seriously, lemme stop for a second. This is a good film. It may be better than good. I kid because I care. It’s sappy and silly and, again, so, so indie; but it is very good. I liked it very much. I only mock things because I’m insecure–JUST LIKE INK.

Yeah. So. Ink is a movie about an asshole. It’s about a high-powered executive in some undefined company (fake board-roomy jargon abounds) who, it is revealed almost immediately, does not appreciate his beautiful young family, choosing instead to pour himself into his work. The businessman, whose name is John, proceeds thusly, until one day he gets some bad news (it’s unclear what the bad news is, at first) and, in a fit of rage, drives recklessly through the city streets until he’s T-boned by a car that blows a red light.

It’s actually quite difficult to give a brief synopsis, because the film jumps forward and backward in time (and not only as a narrative device: the actual manipulation of time is an important part of the plot). Basically, two parallel narratives develop. In one, John’s daughter Emma is asleep one night when her spirit is snatched from her sleeping body by a mysterious figure called Ink. In the other, John is faced with a decision between caring for Emma, now in a coma and at serious risk of dying, and continuing his douchey CEO ways (he has to broker a major deal between his firm and some client). As Emma’s soul is dragged through a parallel spirit world (which is the same as our world, only somewhat more monochromatic and, I dunno, in need of some landscaping) by Ink, the forces of good–spirit-warriors called Storytellers–do their best to fight off the encroaching forces of  darkness, called Incubi, and find a way to save Emma from her captor. Ink’s plan is to deliver the girl to the leaders of the Incubi, the Assembly, so that he will be able to join them.

There are a number of fight scenes between the Storytellers and Incubi, which are entertaining but slightly jarring, for several reasons. First is the way the filmmakers chose to portray the powerful spiritual warriors fighting for possession of Emma’s soul. Everybody–good and bad–is young and impossibly hip. There’s a lot of The Matrix here, from the pithy (but sometimes awkward) dialogue, to the kung fu (but not, of course, the massive budget and crazy CGI). They also use weapons, from a suspiciously Goku-like  staff to brass knuckles to kukri knives. Also, they all know kung fu.

Then there are the necessarily prop-heavy special effects, including weird photographic projection screens that the Incubi wear on their faces that just project televised images of their own dorky, bespectacled faces, and sets consisting of such things as square metal frames draped with trash bags. The set designers and effects people do a good job, for the most part, with what was clearly a very limited budget; but the production values are very evident, and the film suffers in some places as a result.

Overall, though, Ink is good. The story is predictable, but who cares? That can be satisfying, and it’s the case here. You root for who you’re supposed to root for (once you figure out who that is, which is telegraphed pretty early on but not definitively revealed until the end). There’s some ambiguity, but it’s all sorted out by the end. It’s crunchy.

The most interesting point, for me, is the supernatural universe Ink constructs. You’ve got these Storyteller folks–an interesting name choice–whose job it is to give folks good dreams. It seems as though they may also be psychopomps, and they may themselves be the souls of deceased humans, though the film’s not entirely clear on these points. Anyway, in Ink these guys give folks good dreams and fight against the bad-dream guys, the Incubi. These latter apparently also want to capture human souls for some nefarious (and never stated) purpose.

It’s not really a novel premise (not that it needs to be). But I couldn’t help but be struck by how similar the cosmology Ink establishes is to another, far less sophisticated, far more ridiculous fictional world.

Have you guessed what I’m thinking of yet? Here’s a hint:

I’m sorry, but you probably deserved that. Karma.

That’s right. The mythos is essentially the same as everybody’s favorite seizure-inducing nonsensical Adult Swim time  sink, Bleach. Sure, in Bleach they’re Soul-Reapers; in Ink they’re Storytellers. But come on. In both the anime and the film, these good guys fight evil spirit dudes with silly weapons and crazy martial arts. In both they’re supposedly protecting the souls of the living from wicked spirit-beings out to do…stuff. In both they are, again, just so hip.

Ink does it much better, of course. Bleach is an embarrassment. But the fact remains that the ideas in play are incredibly similar, as is the style with which it’s all executed.

Maybe the one significant complaint (and this, perhaps, is a spoiler) is the idea that a fundamentally bad person–or at least a person who has become bad through his own choices–can be saved not through a long and arduous process of redemption, but by the last-minute intervention of a band of supernatural do-gooders who’ve decided his daughter is just too cute to die, dammit–and Quinn Hunchar as Emma definitely plays the cute card pretty much every second she’s on screen. John, the ruthless businessman, is of course not past redemption; but he doesn’t earn it. It’s handed to him by some random hip young heroes who shop exclusively at Urban Outfitters. This moral point actually hinders the otherwise effortless suspension of disbelief that Ink enables. Spirits and ghosts and such, sure. A get-out-of-jail-free card? Not sure about that. And the other side of the redemption coin is that I’m not entirely sure that John actually does anything that bad, with the one exception of failing to rush to the hospital when he learns his daughter is in a coma. That’s bad, sure, but it doesn’t seem to tally with this damned soul image the movie foists on John.

All of that is secondary. The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is that Ink is a fun movie with a few tear-jerky moments that leaves you feeling pretty satisfied when all is said and done, despite a few shortcomings. This is one of the few movies that I might actually like to see remade (with the same director and writers, but a much bigger budget, and perhaps some new cast members). Having said that, Ink deserves a lot of credit in its own right, exactly as it is, for being a fun little adventure with some compelling ideas and a generally pleasing narrative. 83/100.

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6 thoughts on ““Ink” (2009)

  1. I had a feeling you would enjoy it.

    To address a few of your points:
    1. talked about the indieness of the movie as a limitation. I felt it’s limitations, in several instances, were a strong point. I was more pleased with the practical effects and limited special effects they were able to do than any CGI crap they would have done with a larger budget. To me, it made the fantastic seem slightly more real than it would if a fully rendered Gollum type creature were skulking around.

    2, Maybe it is just me, but there hasn’t been a truly scary movie out in a long time. I look for buts of creep and scare where I can. I found the Incubi, with the projection faces, or worse, the one’s with the glowing eyes reminiscent of The Fog, to be creepier than anything I saw in any recent horror movie.

    3. I think that if you go into this film playing at being Grumplestiltskin, you aren’t going to enjoy it. I am not saying you did. I am just saying, you have to buy in from the start that this movie is about forgiveness and love over most other things. It takes a different route to get there than standard fare, which is what makes it special.

    4. The main thing that bothered me in your review was your “kung fu” and “young and hip” comments. To me, in context of the film, the warrior Storytellers are idealized for their jobs. So yes, they will be young, fit, and good at fighting. If I remember, the main guy with the brass knuckles wasn’t much more than a brawler, not anything into martial arts. Jennifer Batter playing Allel was the most clearly trained martial artist, but she mainly did staff fighting. When it came to the Storyteller who was not a warrior, she was older than the others, and not nearly as hiply dressed. I felt like their clothing was meant to be a mashup of several Eras. You got a feel of late 1990’s from Allel, while the guy and the knife fighter girl felt like maybe an update of 1920’s or 30’s clothing.

    The bad guys were not young and hip. The main projection face was older, sickly looking, and wrong looking.

  2. As to the stilted dialogue, I want to give a benefit of the doubt to Jamin Winans that the Storytellers talk oddly at times because they are kind of Dudley Doo Right, Superman wannabe beings. I think I would have found it more worrisome if they spoke in street slang.

  3. Don’t get me wrong: I liked it. I thought that was pretty clear from the review. And I like props and masks and whatnot way more than CGI–if they’re well executed. “The Thing” remains perhaps the best creature-feature horror film of all time, in my opinion. In “Ink” things were understandably a bit rougher around the edges.

    “Grumplestiltskin?” I didn’t go into this film that way. I went in thinking it would be fantastic, because I’d heard only good things about it (from you). And it was very good. But it was also very saccharine.

    By “hip” I don’t only mean the clothes. I also mean the aforementioned pithy dialogue, which was very Joss Whedon-y. Liev, the main storyteller, was in fact a great warrior–we know this because we see her fight, and because Ink himself tells us.

    This is a good movie that I enjoyed a great deal. But it had a few eyebrow-raising moments/characteristics that I think bear mentioning. And at the end of the day, they all come down to the one thing that I think most often holds indie films back: smugness. The casting, set design, clothing and makeup, and most especially the dialogue exude a sense of self-satisfaction, an attitude of “We can do whatever we want–they’ll like it at Sundance.” And again, there’s a certain Whedon-like air, a feeling that coolness hides a multitude of sins.

    Ink is far, far better than the vast majority of similar films, indie or not. It is a good movie that I recommend people watch. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out things that irked me about it–things which are especially irksome exactly because it IS a good movie.

  4. Also, I stayed up until 4 watching the film and then writing the review. That should give some indication of how much I liked it.

  5. You make valid points. I also have not seen it in quite some time. I forgot that Liev did fight.

    I agree, there are some cringe worthy parts that I remember. I liked the casting for John. He could have been better, but he could have been far worse. I liked Jennifer Batter as Allel. I am not sold she is a great actress, and she hasn’t been in hardly anything else.

    The hardest thing for me to watch is the blind guy. I alternate between REALLY liking the character and actor, and hating every choice he makes.

    I feel the need to rewatch it now. I watched the Hospital fight scene after reading your review. I really enjoy that scene.

  6. I liked Jennifer Batter too, especially in her intro scene when she’s watching Emma play with her stuffed animals. There was a kind of easy familiarity in that moment that I really appreciated. Also, she looks stunningly like Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noel_Fielding

    Nailed it with the blind guy. He has a few great moments– “Hello, dirt. How are we today?”–and some annoying moments. The balance is positive, though.

    And I agree about the hospital fight. That’s probably the best action sequence in the movie. Reminded me of Old Boy, only way less messy.

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