It’s a strange world we live in given the haphazard distribution and reception of films made by genuine talent and it seems to be getting stranger all the time. The days when a low-budget gem like The Blair Witch Project could be picked up, marketed and end up breaking through into the mainstream are long gone. As a result some really great work passes by relatively unnoticed. Recent examples of this include Caradog James’ The Machine, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and found footage horror Mr Jones but there are many more just languishing in obscurity waiting to be discovered.

One of the most moving and inspiring films I have seen in the last five years was made for a mere $250,000 and only exists on physical media because it was released via illegal file sharing sites and subsequently downloaded 400,000 times in its first week.

Writer, director and producer Jamin Winans made Ink completely independently and only ever intended to market the film directly to independent cinemas with the DVD and Blu-Ray available directly from his production company website after showing at some stateside film festivals. The film ended up being shared around the internet and subsequently the film’s profile grew and the sales figures were boosted with the DVD becoming available everywhere by the end of 2009.

If there were any justice in this world then Winans would be enjoying the kind of career of those who influenced him. Ink is an incredibly accomplished and confident fantastical vision and more inventive and heartfelt than films with ten times its budget. Ink has Terry Gilliam’s cast of grotesques and fools, the Waschowski’s flair for action scenes and the dream logic of David Lynch’s most recent work and though it wears its influences on its sleeve it never once feels contrived.

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The story opens with stressed sales executive John crashing his car after an especially bad day. From here we see via his dreams that he has an estranged young daughter named Emma whom he does not connect with and who no longer appears to be part of his life. In the (sort of) real world we then bear witness to a secret world of ‘Storytellers’ who influence our dreams as we sleep and ‘Incubi’ who control our nightmares. In the midst of all this a scarred, deformed being known as Ink kidnaps Emma and takes her in-between the real world and the dream world with the intention of delivering her to the incubi and becoming one of them. A select group of storytellers and a ‘pathfinder’ set out to rescue the Emma and subtly enlist the help of John who has more of a connection with Ink than anyone realises.

I mentioned earlier that the film has a certain level of dream logic and this means it plays out in non-linear fashion with time being largely irrelevant but nonetheless extremely important to the story as a whole. It’s a credit to Winans’ skill as a storyteller however that this never overwhelms proceedings and the film remains compelling throughout. As the film is essentially the story of a father and a daughter and a degree or redemption, the story spoke to me on a personal level because I am at the age where children and planning for their future has become so important. I usually start crying about five minutes in and don’t stop until the end credits. Ever wonder why that final scene in Joe Carnahan’s The Grey was so moving? Yes the music was taken from this film..

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Many have trashed the film because it looks cheap but this is hardly a fair criticism. It looks different, and for a film with such a low-budget it is remarkable they pulled it off so successfully. The simple effects work around the beings from the secret netherworld’s are stunning precisely because they are so simplistic. The Storytellers blink into existence with a drum like beat and a flash and the Incubi have the distorted visage of every creep, weirdo and pervert you ever saw on a front page and the effect is nightmarish. The film is shot in very soft focus, evoking a dreamlike atmosphere and the subject matter propels a very rewarding experience within.

When these beings clash it’s extremely well-choreographed and in one impressive lengthy sequence a house is trashed in the background and quickly repairs itself with reverse footage used to startling effect. Winans then goes and pulls off a brilliant central set piece in which Jacob the pathfinder uses the flow and rhythm of the world to intervene in fate and get a main character to the place he needs to be. It’s tear jerking, beautiful and so inventive all at the same time. A rare feat.

If there is a complaint it’s that some of the performances are a little wooden at times, especially when called on to do such emotional heavy lifting, but most of the roles are extremely well cast with actors’ innate likeability really working in their favour.

If there is any justice Jamin Winans’ next film, The Frame, will catapult him into the big leagues and he will have a bigger canvas on which to mount his unique visions.

We often hear the complaint that there is simply nothing new in Hollywood yet Ink has ideas in abundance and is the kind of film to be encouraged and celebrated.

Ink is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime