In print: ‘Jayden’s Revenge: A Story of an American Family’
Despite their length, I would argue that short stories are more difficult to write than full-fledged novels. Not that novels are easy (believe me …), but short stories are constrained by their general need to be self-contained, focused and, well, short. Dirk Knight’s first short story, “Jayden’s Revenge: A Story of an American Family,” falters slightly in some aspects, but manages to tell an interesting story.
“Jayden’s Revenge” follows the eponymous Jayden, a teenage girl whose older brother has recently died. The two shared a close relationship, though their delinquent behavior put a heavy strain on their family. Regardless of who was the negative influence on whom, Jayden is still doing drugs and skipping-out on class while developing a very cynical attitude. Her father, despite succumbing to depression and alcoholism, tries his best to brighten his daughter’s mood, but the shadow of his son’s death and his wife’s institutionalization could make it almost impossible.
When I was taking creative writing classes in college, I could always bet on at least four short stories being submitted by class members about a teenager who has, for all intents and purposes, given up on life. That’s not to say all these stories were bad, some were really good, but there’s only so many times I can read about how the protagonist’s estranged friend has become a rich conformist living in a fairytale wonderland and doesn’t understand the harshness of reality (and yet I couldn’t write fantasy, science fiction, or horror because they’re too “generic,” but that’s a whole other rant). Fortunately, while “Jayden’s Revenge” indeed starts like this, the story takes an interesting turn about half-way through that got me invested. It also helps that the reader is given several points of view, which not only helps build the story but also avoids painting the protagonist as faultless.
It’s always a good idea when writing a short story to keep things simple, meaning there shouldn’t be a huge cast of characters or a wide range of settings. “Jayden’s Revenge” suffers from this slightly, as I would have liked to know more about Jayden’s mother. As for the others, there was enough development to where I was never confused on character motivations. Every character’s thoughts about another are made clear, and not so much in a blunt way. Probably my biggest complaint is that I thought, for the first couple of pages, that Jayden’s brother was her boyfriend. However, one of its strengths is the town this story takes place in is well-established without an overabundance of details; the descriptions given were enough for me to visualize the scenes.
The pacing in “Jayden’s Revenge” is good, if a little faulty near the end. Plot details are revealed in due time, with quite a few bits of foreshadowing here and there but never revealing too much. While I thought the climax was handled well, it did seem to kind of happen all at once. For example, one plot point could have been built up a little more. It does get surprisingly graphic, but it’s used to serve the plot rather than just for the sake of being explicit. The revelation at the end also seemed a bit rushed at first, mostly due to a slight tonal shift, but it was satisfying and did not feel tacked-on in the slightest.
Though it at first comes off as another one of those teenage, angst stories, Dirk Knight professionally takes “Jayden’s Revenge” into an interesting direction.
Contains mature themes, drug and alcohol use, and graphic violence.
In Theaters: ‘Insidious 2’
“Insidious 2” picks right up where the first film ended as Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) tries to explain to a detective how Elise (Lin Shaye) wound up strangled to death. Of course, her story was hard to buy – as was the film’s plot.
It doesn’t take long before things begin to go bump in the night. Renai, her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) and their three kids move into Josh’s mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) home to get away from the madness that ensued in the earlier film. However, the sightings, moving objects, mysterious noises and all the other things that make old homes creepy begin to rear their malevolent heads.
Soon Renai begins to realize things aren’t what they seem but decides to simply scream a lot then drop the kids off at school just the same. The film’s real heroine is grandma Lorraine who seeks the help of Elise’s old friend Carl (Steve Coulter) in an effort to rid her family of the evil that plagues them. Along with the help of Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Simpson), they set out on a night of ghost hunting that leads them to an abandoned hospital and what I presume to be a recreation of John Wayne Gacy’s home. It’s pretty scary, but they manage to answer some of their questions.
The foursome throws together a plan, which fails, and what ensues is quick and a ginormous let down – like your typical second installment.
Director and writer James Wan (“The Conjuring”) and co-writer Leigh Whannell attempt to tie up loose ends from the first film, but instead dig the rabbit hole deeper as they try explaining astral projection while simultaneously interjecting time travel.
The subjects are both fascinating and anything but ordinary in the horror genre, however without the aid of psychedelic drugs it became increasingly more difficult to take the movie seriously as the first one had been. The comedic relief by ghost hunters Specs and Tucker was also over-the-top, distracting and occurred far too often. To Wan’s credit he kept the intensity level revving throughout, and the jumpy moments were plentiful.
But it was disappointing. It felt as though the movie could have been condensed into 15 minutes and added to the end of the first film. Weirdly, it also felt as though the film ended too abruptly, probably because it didn’t really have a climax. The very end is particularly frustrating, please no third chapter.
Ultimately the film was like your fantasy football team. You’re sure it has all of the right elements to be successful but half way through the season, it’s a bust. “Insidious 2” had the same cast, director and even interesting twists to add to the whole genre, but it didn’t work. The first film is on Netflix, so if you’re really interested in watching the second chapter save yourself the money and have a horror night at home when the second one is released on Netflix too.
“Insidious 2” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of terror and violence, and thematic elements.