My Friend Dahmer, 2017.
Written and Directed by Marc Meyers.
Starring Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Dallas Roberts, Liam Koeth, Tommy Nelson, Harrison Holzer, Vincent Kartheiser, Cameron McKendry, Miles Robbins, and Anne Heche.
A young Jeffrey Dahmer struggles to belong in high school.
Not even 10 minutes into My Friend Dahmer (written and directed by Marc Meyers, also based on the graphic novel by Dahmer’s real-life high school buddy and fellow band mate Derf Backderf played by Alex Wolff here) the sociopathic and downright chillingly psychotic Jeffrey Dahmer is seen mimicking the abnormal movements and voice of an interior decorator suffering from cerebral palsy. He then goes out to a wooden shed nearby his house to dissolve dead animals into acid to study their insides and bone structure. For most portraits of infamous serial killers, that would be the money shot, but this analyzation of the broken home-raised, oddball social outcast that went on to take 13 innocent lives after graduation is packed with details.
Right off the bat, the atmosphere and setting clearly evoke the late 1970s accurately, which is hugely worthy of applause in this situation as to my knowledge it is a budget film. Simply put, it has the look and feel of a production with major green behind it. Everything from wardrobe attire to vehicles to environmental backdrops clearly is reminiscent of the Midwest complete with diluted colors (something that only heightens the creepiness of the experience) absorbing audiences into Dahmer’s world. Come to think of it, that’s probably not a place anyone wants to be, but a compliment is a compliment.
The filmmakers easily could have gone the simple, more marketable overly violent and gruesome route of presenting Jeffrey Dahmer, but by following him through roughly a year of high school we get a glimpse of events often, and unfortunately, overlooked in favor of full-blown horror that doesn’t do a damn thing in terms of illuminating what created a monster. Former Disney star Ross Lynch is unsettlingly effective as he hunches over when walking, frequently spaces out into the distance wondering about God only knows what, spazzes out on the floor in public (a seemingly harmless act that draws attention to the band club, embracing him as their goofball friend), guts the innards of a fish, struggles with his sexuality and urges, consistently contemplates upping his murder game to bigger kills, and more. The scariest thing about My Friend Dahmer is the incredible level of restraint; Jeffrey Dahmer doesn’t kill a single person in the near two-hour picture. Instead, he gradually becomes one step closer to imploding into mass murder necrophiliac.
The aberrant behavior is offset by a surprisingly moving scene where his friends (to be fair, they draw the line between enjoying his acquaintance to using him for their own immature entertainment) pick on him by saying that no girl would ever be his prom date. And what do you know, for maybe fives minutes of the movie, Dahmer composes himself somewhat normally and asks a shy freshman out who, after much hesitation and pondering the decision, accepts his offer.
They go together and even take a picture, to which the photographer has an incredibly darkly humorous and foreboding line saying “get closer, she won’t bite your head off”. Black comedy aside, it’s up for debate whether Jeffrey Dahmer was making a statement that he could properly function in society, or if it was sheer luck. Regardless, it was nice while it lasted (the prom date doesn’t end as planned), and in that moment I found myself wishing that this one-act of generosity and kindness would have been enough to mitigate his loneliness setting him on a path of rehabilitation.
As previously mentioned, Dahmer’s home life unquestionably added to his weirdness and depression; his bipolar mom played by an unrecognizable Anne Heche had recently gotten out of a mental institution for believing a UFO sighting she claimed to have witnessed, while his father is a neglective workhorse too busy fighting with his wife. It’s also worth noting that Dahmer had a younger brother during all this, so it would be interesting to know more about how this affected him.
If there’s one complaint to be had with My Friend Dahmer, it’s that some of the writing can feel a bit convenient at times to further his increasingly unstable mind, and acting from the minor supporting characters comes across amateurish. There’s also a character far more psychotic than Dahmer, which might sound crazy, but it’s true and almost feels out of place. Still, this is essential viewing for psychology aficionados that find demented joy in picking apart serial killers, especially Jeffrey Dahmer. Wondering what could have caused someone to become so fucked up is far more compelling than filmmakers indulging in fucked up acts, and Marc Meyers uses Backderf’s graphic novel and that understanding to his advantage. Who knew empathy could be found in Jeffrey Dahmer (before the killings)?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com