The origin stories of serial killers are pop culture obsessions thanks to the likes of Hollywood and streaming services like Netflix. Marc Meyers’ My Friend Dahmer is one of the newest additions.
The film follows the 1978 senior year of Jeffrey Dahmer, a boy who would eventually grow up to be the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” one of America’s most notorious serial killers.
We’re first introduced to Jeffrey (played by Family Channel star Ross Lynch) on the side of the road, holding a garbage bag containing roadkill. Quickly, we discover his favourite pastime is dissolving dead animals in low-intensity acid, hoping to collect their bones and keep them as trophies. It’s an early foreshadowing of the real Dahmer, who was notorious for keeping the bones and body parts of his victims.
At school, Jeffrey is an unhappy loner who keeps to himself. He’s not necessarily bullied in the traditional sense, but his actions and existence are almost completely ignored. His home life is also toxic, with his parents constantly at each other’s throats. As a viewer, you start to feel for young Dahmer, even though you realize the monster he eventually becomes.
The movie drones on until Jeffrey has a “spaz” attack in the middle of class and the school hallway. It’s apparent that he’s doing it for attention and it attracts a senior named Derf (Alex Wolff), who eventually invites Dahmer into his friend circle. The group starts the “Dahmer Fan Club,” creating an audience for Jeffrey’s random faux-seizures in hopes to terrorize the bland atmosphere of the school and its students. Derf calls the random outbursts “doing a Dahmer.”
The situation sounds strange, but it’s actually quite true to life. The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name, written and illustrated by the real John “Derf” Backderf.
The film paints the late ‘70s aptly and the cinematography has fun portraying Dahmer as a social outcast with dark, demented thoughts (he fantasizes about sleeping next to a deceased jogger and contemplates murdering live animals). Additionally, Lynch’s portrayal of Dahmer is unsettling and chillingly detached.
There are some faults in the film. It’s too long and has moments of useless dialogue that fail to add to the plot. The goal of the film is to show that Dahmer wasn’t born a killer, but that he was made one. In the first 15 minutes, we already see that he is abnormal and has little empathy for life. So there’s no real evolution until his thoughts are taken to the very obvious extremes.
Still, there are two scenes near the end that are thrilling and severely unnerving.
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My Friend Dahmer