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Ink – film review

December 20, 2012


A triumph of independent fantasy filmmaking.


Written, produced, directed, edited and scored by Jamin Winans. Executive producer Kiowa K. Winans. Starring: Chris Kelly, Quinn Hunchar, Jessica Duffy, Jennifer Batter, Eme Ikwuakor, Shelby Malone, Shannan Steele and Jeremy Make. Released in 2009. Running time: 102 mins.

As with the subject of last week’s review – Mr. NobodyInk is a film I didn’t even know existed until a week or so ago. It was lent to me by another friend of mine.

And yep, as soon as it began, I knew I was in for something special.

John Sullivan (Chris Kelly) is a career-obsessed businessman estranged from his eight-year-old daughter Emma (Quinn Hunchar) after the death of her mother Shelly (Shannan Steele) leaves John grief-stricken and unable to care for her.

Meanwhile, beings from another dimension are vying for control over people’s dreams. There are two main factions – the ‘storytellers’ who manipulate our dreams for good – and the ‘Incubi’ who turn our dreams to nightmares. And then there are other characters who also inhabit this netherworld – the ‘drifters’ – lost souls who wander aimlessly and the ‘pathfinders’ – blind beings who are able to directly manipulate aspects of our world. While in the care of her grandparents, Emma awakens from a dream and her soul is kidnapped by a drifter known simply as Ink, causing her physical self in the real world to slip into a coma.

ink - ink

Ink has kidnapped Emma’s soul as an offering to the Incubi in the hope that he will be asked to join their ranks. A storyteller named Liev (Jessica Duffy) allows herself to be taken hostage by Ink as an added offering so that she may stay close to Emma and watch over her during her journey to the Incubi. She also hopes to talk Ink into abandoning his offering of Emma and substitute herself in place of the little girl.

ink - jacob

Meanwhile, Liev’s fellow storytellers have employed the services of Jacob (Jeremy Make) – a blind pathfinder, who it is hoped will be able to manipulate events in the physical world so that Emma’s father will finally emerge from his self-destructive funk and bond with the gravely ill child in order to save her life. Will John’s love for his daughter be reignited before Ink damns her soul to an eternal nightmare?


Ink is the impressive sophomore feature from husband and wife duo Jamin and Kiowa Winans, a filmmaking couple based in Denver Colorado. Reportedly produced on a budget of $250,000, it was financed entirely independent of any studio or distributor and through positive word-of-mouth has gained something of a cult following since its completion in 2009. Upon its release that same year, the film was downloaded by over 500,000 people in a single week via BitTorrent which resulted in its ranking at number 16 on IMDb’s top 20 popular movies list. All this popular attention ultimately led to healthy DVD and Blu-Ray sales and the film soon became a financial success – all without a distributor or studio backing. Not bad for a film whose script couldn’t even secure a single reading from a single Hollywood studio or production company – despite the fact the Winans already had a feature – 11:59 – and several shorts under their belt.

Clearly drawing inspiration from the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alex Proyas, Guillermo Del Torro and the Wachowskis, Ink is a refreshing take on the fairy tale for adults genre. The film reminded me of the equally excellent Franklyn in structure and tone and Mirrormask and Pan’s Labyrinth in its visual aesthetics and fairy tale aspirations. And – it is safe to say – every dime of its limited budget is up there on the screen.

There are startling moments of originality throughout the film. During the scene at Emma’s grandparent’s home, when Ink abducts the little girl’s soul, a gang of storytellers attempt to stop him and a well-staged stoush ensues during which various items of furniture are smashed – only to magically reconstitute themselves moments later in the manner of reverse photography. A simple but effective technique which tells us these beings have no physical presence in our reality – very clever.

ink incubus

Kiowa K. Winans is credited with art direction and costume design (as well as being executive producer) and she has done a remarkable job considering the budget she’s had to work with. The villians of the piece – the Incubi – are bespectacled wraiths with chesire cat grins projected onto screens suspended in front of their faces. And they are genuinely creepy – very reminiscent of the strangers in Alex Proyas’ Dark City.

incubus - ink

Despite the aesthetic limitations of shooting on HD, Jeff Pointers’ cinematography is suitably atmospheric. His use of color is effective in conveying where we are at any given point, particularly when cutting back and forth between the various worlds and time frames. The ‘real world’ is quite neutral and true to life, whereas the other side and the storyteller’s POV of our world are steely grey and John’s flashbacks are fluoro green in color (along with the nightmares created by the Incubi).

ink - chris kelly

Performances are generally very good with the standout being Chris Kelly in the lead. Also very watchable is Jessica Duffy as Liev. Her scenes with eight-year-old Quinn Hunchar (also very good) are naturalistic and believable.

ink - emma and liev

I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the careers of these particular actors blossom into larger Hollywood fare.

Also worth mentioning is Kiowa’s sound design – her choice of natural sounds to represent the otherworldly gives the events a strange familiarity – the CHINK! CHINK! of a Zippo lighter hood being flipped open as the storytellers zap in from the other side is a good example of this. It is these original little flourishes which enhance the overall freshness of the piece.

Jamin Winans’ metronomic music score works well in enhancing the movie’s emotional core. Percussive and yet low-key, it perfectly compliments the visuals.

Another key area in which Jamin demonstrates considerable talent is film editing. Particularly impressive is the pivotal sequence where Jacob uses a hurdy-gurdy-like contraption to create a Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events which ultimately sets John on the course of redemption. So astonishing is this sequence in fact, I found myself replaying it several times just to get my head around just how well-orchestrated and clever it is.

Fantasy trappings aside, Ink is (at its core) the engaging story of an estranged father who must reconnect with his daughter in order to save her young life and redeem himself in the process. With its intriguing premise and dream-like ambience, it held my attention from the very beginning right up until its deeply moving conclusion. It is a thoughtful film with enormous heart and an important message. It is also a shining example of what can be achieved on a limited budget with boundless imagination, energy and resolve. I look forward to the Winans’ next feature (currently in production) with eager anticipation.

DVD and Blu-Ray copies of the film can be purchased directly from the filmmakers via their official website at:

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

ink - contraption

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.


From → film reviews

  1. This seems soooo good! It goes right on top of my To Watch list 🙂

    • Cool! I’ll be keen to hear what you think ‘M’. 🙂 It’s great to stumble across a little gem like this and then be able to promote it to the wider world – partly why I set up this blog in the first place. 🙂

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