I went to a movie party the Friday before Halloween. A couple of my friends hold this party every year and I traveled four states over to attend this year. The line up for this is always horror movies, some designed to shock, some designed to outrage, some designed just for fun, and it was here that I saw Dead Set and Frozen. The opening film was Ink (2009, directed by Jamin Winans). Of the films shown, this was the most divisive. One of our hosts went gaga for it; it was his selection for the evening to start with. One of our hostesses was fairly indifferent to it. I kind of fall into the latter camp.
Ink is one of those fantasy films that literalizes its moral and psychological conflicts, casting the various forces of its protagonist's raging id as warring angels and demons. The film it reminds me of most is Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come, with which it shares common flaws. Like that film Ink is gorgeous, the sort of film so drenched in its visual sensibility that it may tempt some viewers to call it "visionary," which is accurate enough, I suppose. It's all the more impressive for being made on a shoestring. The action sequences are as polished and as Matrix-y as anything in contemporary film, while its conception of other worlds and their inhabitants suggest a kind of blasted, cyberpunk dark ages; a revisiting of the year 1000's absent apocalypse, if you will. Hell, it even includes one sequence so arresting that it's probably worth seeing the film for alone, in which a blind "pathfinder" attuned to the rhythm of the world around him orchestrates a plot turn in the finest tradition of Rube Goldberg (almost literally; he seems to be conducting the world as if it were an orchestra). As a formal object, there is nothing, really, to complain about.
In spite of all this, Ink nearly put me to sleep. This may have to do with the emphasis on the visuals at the expense of interesting characters. "Visionary" films sometimes do this, particularly if there is no sturdy narrative behind them. The pretty pictures awe, but don't compel. Ink falls into this trap. The central figure in Ink is that hoary old cliche of sentimentalist cinema, the father who is so consumed by his career that he loses touch with his child, a figure who was already way-overused when he appeared in Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" way back in 1974. Ink's narrative arc is predicated on its protagonist visiting his sick daughter in the hospital while the angels and demons of his mind war over his soul. It's depressingly literal about what his soul looks like: it's the title character, a monstrous troll tasked with taking the soul of his daughter to the nightmarish incubi who want to claim them both. For the most part, this has no dramatic weight, nor is the film very good at disguising its intentions. It's depressingly literal about coding its characters, too, casting its angelic entities as contemporary hippies and its incubi as post-modern bondage freaks. This is unfortunate.
I dunno, maybe I'm not in tune with this fantasy because it's so very hetero-normative, so very tailored to male fathers, that it has no prayer of speaking to me. I doubt it, though. I think this is another example of a would be Frank Capra stumbling over his own mawkishness. When it comes to art, after all, sentimentality is pure poison.