Marc Meyers (director)
01 June 2018 (released)
30 May 2018
Jeffrey Dahmer is probably the most notorious serial killer of modern times. That’s not something that should be crowed about, it just a plain fact. He murdered seventeen men and boys between 1978 and 1991 in some of the most repellent ways imaginable.
My Friend Dahmer is based on an original graphic novel of the same name, released in 2012 written by Derf Backerf, who was a classmate of Dahmer in the late 1970’s. The novel is set in a specific period while they were still at high school, before the murders, and is the backbone to writer and director Marc Meyers’s film.
Meyers sets us up from the off as we are introduced to Jeff, his shed and his hobby of dissolving roadkill in jars of acid. Family wise, it’s a typical domestic set up, father, mother, brother and Jeffrey in a reasonably comfortable middle-class house in mid-west America. But not far beneath this veneer of happiness is a seething anger between the Joyce and Lionel Dahmer (Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts) clearly heading for a split. Jeff is in the middle of this virtually ignored and left to his own devices.
In school he’s a nobody until he starts to fake epileptic fits, which goes down a storm with a group of nerds who set up The Dahmer Fan Club headed by John 'Derf' Backderf (Alex Wolff). Encouraged Dahmer plays up to this until his final ‘performance’ in a shopping mall. By this time his ‘friends’ looking towards graduation have tired of him. At the same time Dahmer is sinking into alcoholism, killing small animals and questioning his sexuality which leads him to stalk a jogger with a baseball bat.
It’s not quite the skin-crawler one would expect bearing in mind the subject matter. It’s is nevertheless an uneasy film that weakly asks you to sympathise with Dahmer; his parents are a mess have little or no interest in him and disintegrating marriage and the ‘Fan Club’ who saw him as nothing more than a plaything. But any sympathy is obliterated when on a fishing trip instead of throwing the fish back, he frenziedly cuts it to pieces, and when he later starts on the local dog population.
Curiously there are also times when you feel this could tip towards a very black comedy as when the ‘Fan Club’, for a prank, slot Jeff into all the school photos. His height, straw coloured hair and expressionless face standing out, ruining them all. Ross Lynch is effectively unsettling as Dahmer; an unappealing character with a dispassionate personality, physically he looks clumsy with a heavy shouldered gait.
Meyers chose to follow the source closely, and many of the shots are framed using the comic’s panels. This actually works well instilling something of the unreal, though that’s balanced by a good sense of period as defined by a waspish Heche, all 70’s bug-eyed glasses, smoking thin, overlong, white cigarettes, and an excellent choice of songs.
At the time Dahmer was no more than another school oddity who was picked up, then dispensed with once he’d served his purpose. So don’t expect any great insight into the creation of a serial killer, this is more about hindsight from one of his school ‘friends’ who at the time (not surprisingly) had a bunch of other things on his mind.