|“||Are you a failure, Ink? Because failure is not an option with us, Ink. Only perfection.||„|
|~ The Key Master Incubus|
The Incubi are the main antagonists of the 2009 American indie fantasy film Ink. A race of monstrous spirits native to the Dreamworld, the Incubi exist in stark contrast with the quiescent Drifters and benevolent Storytellers: where the Storytellers bring dreams of contentment and attempt to guide human beings to higher courses of action, the Incubi inflict nightmares on unsuspecting dreamers and lead their conscious minds down paths of pride and despair.
The main bulk of film concerns the Incubi hiring a mercenary Drifter by the name of Ink to kidnap Emma Sullivan and bring her to their hidden lair. However, it's also revealed that they have also targeting Emma's father, John, corrupting him through their emotional influence. With Emma comatose in the real world and John too proud and apathetic to care, it's up to a group of Storytellers to save both the child and her father before the Incubi claim them.
As with all the conscious inhabitants of the Dreamworld, the Incubi are drawn from the spirits of the dead. However, unlike most other spirits of the Dreamworld, they are almost completely uniform in appearance, all of them being identically male, smiling, and distinctively arrogant. No female Incubi are ever witnessed at any point in the film, not even in the Assembly; to date, it's not known if this means that the Incubi are all male as is the case with their mythological namesake, or if they simply haven't been seen. Similarly, where Storytellers, Pathfinders and Drifters all dress in a wide variety of eccentric styles depending on their personality, the Incubi all dress in black suits, green PVC aprons and wide-rimmed glasses. Most rarely move unless required to, remaining perfectly still as they enact nightmares upon the minds of unsuspecting sleepers.
All Incubi cover their faces with transparent screens suspended in front of them, permanently tinting their expressions monochrome grey. These screens are often disrupted by flashes of cathode-ray light, random blurs of motion, even images reminiscent of projected film; the faces beneath them appear to warp and shift, hideously exaggerating their facial movements - especially their smiles. On the rare occasions when they have to fight, Incubi remove their screens, revealing that their glasses actually emit light, as if the images on their screens are literally being projected from their eyes. Given that they tend to operate in dark or poorly-lit environments - often going so far as to shut down the lights in certain areas of the Dreamworld - their glowing eyes only make them more distinctive in combat.
Regardless of their current emotional state, Incubi are always smiling, their faces invariably reverting to Cheshire-Cat grins as soon as they finish speaking. Even when angry - a fact only noticeable by their tone of voice - or in combat, Incubi are incapable of adopting different expressions. In conjunction with their screens, their smiles are made to appear all the more uncanny: at one point during his conversation with Ink, the Keymaster's smile appears to spread all the way across the lower half of his face.
The one exception to this common appearance is the leader of the Incubi, an individual known only as the Prince. Dressed all in black, he wears no screen or glasses; unlike the others, he appears normal - even handsome. However, his eyes continuously turn black, obscured by thick shadows independent of nearby light sources.
Personalities among the Incubi are also quite uniform, even in the case of the Prince: all of them speak in whispers, occasionally distorted as if by static, only raising their voice in emergencies. In keeping with their nature as exemplars of pride and corruption, Incubi style themselves as beings of perfection (hence the screens emphasizing their smiles) and actively enjoy encouraging the baser natures of the individuals they have targeted, driving them to extremes of vanity and anger. They also demonstrate pronounced sadistic streaks, especially when inflicting nightmares on innocent sleepers; while needling Ink over his failures, the Keymaster goes so far as to sniff the air as if the sense of shame is something he can smell, chuckling at Ink's humiliated response.
Powers And Abilities
Incubi are among the most dangerous individuals in the Dreamworld, capable of interacting with individuals on a level that most Storytellers can only achieve when their targets are unconscious. Capable of inflicting hideous nightmares upon the minds of sleeping individuals, they can also influence their thoughts while they're awake by literally whispering in their ears, spurring them onto greater heights of pride and despair.
They also appear capable of teleporting out of the shadows, materializing out of the darkness once the Storytellers have retreated; furthermore, they can also teleport themselves away in emergencies, dissolving into static to escape pursuers. They even appear to have some innate connection with shadows and darkness: along with their powers over nightmares being illustrated by their unearthly shadows creeping across unsuspecting dreamers, they also have the ability to plunge areas of the Dreamworld into darkness, allowing them to assault the Storytellers at the hospital under the cover of shadows.
Fortunately, for all their influence over the minds of others, the Incubi are still bound by their nature as spirits of the Dreamworld, and cannot effect the real world except through the pawns they have corrupted. As such, when the Pathfinder is able to engineer a car crash that knocks John unconscious, John's Incubus is powerless to awaken him. Similarly, though they are formidable combatants, they are not invincible; when confronted by the overwhelming forces of the Storyteller army, the Incubi guarding the hospital are forced to retreat.
Events Of The Film
Already witnessed tormenting unsuspecting sleepers with nightmares of abandonment and death, the Incubi's part in the story begins with them hiring the Drifter Ink to kidnap Emma Sullivan; ashamed of his disfigured appearance, Ink has agreed to deliver the child to the Incubus Assembly in exchange for entrance into the ranks of the Incubi - a transformation he believes will cleanse him of his shame and ugliness. Though Ink is successful in kidnapping Emma's spirit, his key to the Assembly is broken in the ensuing brawl with the Storytellers, forcing him to seek help from the Keymaster Incubus. After taunting him for his failings, the Keymaster informs him that the code he needs for the key has been split in half and entrusted to two Drifters, sending him on a mission to retrieve it - but not before warning him that he only has a few hours to deliver the girl.
Back in the real world, Emma's physical body has slipped into a coma and been hospitalized. Determined to save her, the Storytellers attempt to intervene on her behalf - either by attempting to directly rescue Emma's spirit (which only results in Liev being taken prisoner by Ink) or by following Jacob the Pathfinder on a quest to save her through more indirect means. The trail eventually leads them to John, Emma's father: a businessman and a workaholic, John has been estranged from Emma for several years after losing custody of her following the death of his wife, his grief-induced addiction to drugs and alcohol prompting the courts to leave her in the care of her maternal grandparents. However, he is also being stalked by an Incubus, who is driving him to greater heights of pride to compensate for his failings; flashbacks also indicate that the Incubi have been preying upon John's insecurities for most of his life. As such, when John's father-in-law attempts to convince him to visit his daughter at the hospital, the Incubus is able to spur John into refusing him - leaving him to focus on his ambitions at the cost of his family.
Observing the pride-fueled descent into self-destruction, Jacob hits upon John as the perfect means of saving Emma, and uses his abilities to cause a car-crash that knocks John unconscious; with the Incubus unable to awaken him and forced to flee, the Storytellers are able to tail John to the hospital and spark an epiphany in him through dreams of his wife. Awakening in the same hospital as Emma, John has a change of heart, abandoning his business plans for the rest of the day to watch over his daughter's bedside; however, the Incubi begin gathering in large numbers, attempting to influence job back into excesses of pride, forcing the Storytellers to fight them off while helping John through the hospital towards Emma's room.
Meanwhile, having obtained the necessary codes, Ink delivers Emma to the Assembly - also proffering up Liev as an additional payment. His gifts are accepted, and as the Incubi gather to watch, the Prince fatally stabs Liev in the stomach before dragging Emma away to be sacrificed in a ritual that will transform Ink into an Incubus; however, the Prince also reveals that Emma herself is merely secondary to the true victory that lies in recruiting Ink.
At that moment, with some prompting from the dying Liev, Ink finally realizes the truth: he is a possible future of John, conjured up by the Dreamworld's distorted timescale; in his timeline, he was never stopped by Jacob and successfully completed his business for the day, leaving Emma to die in hospital. Having finally been driven to the nadir of his moral descent, John found himself unable to forgive himself for abandoning his daughter, resulting in a rapid downward spiral into depression, addiction, and finally suicide - whereupon he was reborn as Ink. Having engineered his downfall, the Incubi now want to complete his self-destruction by transforming him into one of them, ensuring the continuation of their people through corruption.
Remembering himself at long last, Ink charges to the rescue, killing the Prince and fighting off the Incubi army. Elsewhere, the Storytellers successfully guide John to Emma's hospital room, and Jacob is able to trigger a distress call that summons an army of Storytellers to send the remaining Incubi into full retreat. With all threats to her finally eliminated, Emma awakens to find her father sitting by her bedside - concluding the film.