Marc Meyers (director)
31 May 2018 (released)
03 June 2018
Jeffrey Dahmer is one of America's most notorious serial killers, raping, murdering and dismembering 17 men and boys from 1978 until he was caught in 1991.
But what led Dahmer to commit such atrocious crimes? That's what My Friend Dahmer examines, by charting the killer's time at school just before he murdered his first victim.
A young Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is an outcast at his Ohio high school, who loves nothing more than spending his free time picking up road kill and dissolving them in jars of acid he got from his chemist father Lionel (Dallas Roberts), so he can study the bones.
He's mostly left alone at school and doesn't fall victim to bullies like his only acquaintance Oliver (Jack DeVillers) does. Home life is just as lonely, with his dad working long hours, his mum Joyce (Anne Heche) relapsing into mental illness and his brother Dave (Liam Koeth) getting preferential treatment.
As well as his morbid hobby, Jeff also develops an obsession with a jogger (we later find out to be Dr. Matthews, played by Vincent Kartheiser) who runs by his house every day. While Lionel doesn't know the full extent of Jeff's after-school hobbies, he does flatten his son's makeshift lab in disgust, and orders him to make friends.
By chance, the loner does soon become part of a group at school, when aspiring artist John 'Derf' Backderf (Alex Wolff) and his pals form the Dahmer Fan Club after finding Jeff's over the top imitation spasms, which he begins to do all over school, hilarious.
For a time, Dahmer's life resembles something more normal, and he and his friends become known for their harmless pranks, like sneaking Jeff into every club yearbook photo and blagging their way into Vice President Walter Mondale's office. But when the teen begins to drink heavily as his parents' marriage crumbles, his behaviour descends into weirdness and his group starts to desert him. He fades back into his old life, though his fantasies have become decidedly darker, and he now kills animals, a known trait of future killers, and dreams of lying with the corpse of Dr. Matthews.
Finally, just before the credits roll, we see the sullen soon-to-be killer, crack a fake smile as he picks up hitch-hiker Steven Hicks, the first of his many victims, just weeks after graduating high school.
Much like the recent American Crime Story, which examined how Gianni Versace's killer Andrew Cunanan went from a pathological liar to cold-blooded killer, My Friend Dahmer illustrates how a teen oddball went from dissolving animal carcasses to eventually mutilating humans.
Marc Meyers' film, based on Derf's real-life graphic novel of the same name, is basically a serial killer origin story, so there's not much in the way of all-out gore and the pace is gentle, with the young Dahmer slowly becoming more disturbed before our eyes, meaning the film feels longer than its 107-minute runtime.
That said, it is a fascinating portrait of one of the world's most infamous killers and will leave you feeling chilled to the core. One scene near the end, involving Jeff and Derf, gives you the heart-in-the-mouth feeling you'll be craving all the way through.
For those not familiar with 22-year-old Lynch, he is a former Disney Channel star who also fronts a pop-rock band called R5 with three of his siblings. It's a bold casting, but one that pays off, and the young actor perfectly captures Dahmer's eerie air.
The supporting cast also does a fine job, as does costume designer Carla Shivener, who nails the late '70s styles.
For anyone with an interest in real-life serial killers, this is a new and impressive way to bring a true tale to life.