A while back, when Blockbuster was closing some of its brick-and-mortar stores, I bought a bunch of marked-down DVDs at one of these disappearing outlets. A few replaced VHS films I had at home, some were movies I’d seen but didn’t own yet, and about half a dozen were titles I’d never seen—or never even heard of.  I haven’t had much time to watch these, but I finally popped one in the player last night.

That film is Ink (2009), a kaleidoscopic, dark, yet poignant modern fairy tale from Indie filmmaker Jamin Winans (11:59, 2006). It’s been compared to The Matrix, Brazil, and Dark City, and that’s probably why I bought it.  In my mind, the closest comparison that the film description mentions might be to Pan’s Labyrinth, the 2006 Guillermo del Toro film about a little girl growing up in fascist Spain in 1944 and escaping to a creepy fantasy world.  But in Ink, Emma (played by adorable and talented Quinn Hunchar) does not create her alter-setting:  her consciousness is kidnapped and dragged through it as a sacrifice while her living body lies in a hospital in a coma.

Well, I can see bits and pieces of the aforementioned films, but what Ink presents is a unique landscape in which two opposing forces emerge each night—the storytellers, who provide lovely dreams to humans, and the succubi, who give them horrific and humiliating nightmares. In the midst of this, another kind of creature appears: Ink, who looks like the baba yaga of lore and steals little Emma out of her bed. The storytellers try to stop him, but he escapes when he plays a few notes on a tiny drum, a kind of key that these entities use to move between worlds. At this point, we barely know what the heck is going on. But in snippets that move back and forth in time, we see the piecemeal story of Emma’s father, John (Christopher Soren Kelly), his deterioration from loving husband and father to slave of the corporate ladder, and his eventual loss of his daughter—a loss that might be able to be reversed. And that’s the quest.

Ink, our eponymous hero ... er, villain ... ?

To me, Ink is The Wizard of Oz meets MirrorMask … wait, that’s a bit redundant, since MirrorMask itself is a version of The Wizard of Oz!  Anyway, if you have seen these compared films, you can guess a bit about Ink’s story and the way it is woven.  What you cannot see from these comparisons is the amazing camera work, lighting, color manipulation, special effects, and editing that makes Ink as much a work of cinematic art as a worthwhile adaptation of a well-known cautionary tale.

Though most people who have seen Ink are quite impressed, I’ve read several viewer comments that it moves slowly and its ending is predictable. I too thought the movie moved slowly at first. But I was soon caught up in the beauty of the cinematography and photo-effects that help to set the scenario of the interlocking realities in this film. None of the scenes are superfluous—they all play a role in the atmosphere and in the story to come. Second, these folks are absolutely correct in saying that the tale is a well-known one, like a filmed version of “Cat’s Cradle” (only with a daughter instead of a son).  I saw the big revelation coming a mile away too.  I think we are supposed to.  I think we’re meant to ponder long and hard, as Ink does, about the decision to be made.  And I believe the plot had to be familiar and predictable to allow for the tale to be told in such an imaginative way.

Blind and snarky Jacob (Jeremy Make), the Pathfinder, uses the rhythm of the world to alter the course of events. Behind him, Allel (Jennifer Batter), Emma's protector, watches and waits.

I saw it coming too, but that didn’t stop me from tearing up as Ink has his moment of realization and Emma forgives him.  Most of the machinations around the central characters are never explained; there’s no neat wrap-up of what happened or why these dream-state creatures exist.  So, at least we have the grounding of a familiar plot and conflict—it’s the eternal struggle between light and dark, between reason and chaos, between redemption and the fall from grace, or—most apropos for Ink—between embracing shame and assuming false pride.

And, no, darn it all, I don’t know why he’s called Ink.  With my penchant for all things inky, I’d love to know!