Everybody knows the infamous crimes committed by Jeffrey Dahmer. who was known as the Milwaukee Cannibal or the Milwaukee Monster. From the period of 1978 to 1994, Dahmer committed a series of rape, murder, and dismemberment of 17 men. Many of his later murders involved necrophilia, cannibalism, and the permanent preservation of body parts. Rather than focus of the height of his serial killing spree, this film centres on Dahmer’s final year at Revere High School. We may know the final outcome of this film and the character of Dahmer, but the gradual build up of impossible tension throughout this excellently unsettling film is highly effective.
Based on a graphic novel by cartoonist John “Derf” Backderf, who had been friends with Dahmer in high school in the 1970s, My Friend Dahmer focuses on the familiar teen drama aspect of a bunch of misfits trying to find their sense of belonging, one of the biggest misfits of the bunch is Jeffery Dahmer (Ross Lynch). Bullied, mocked and ignored by is peers, Dahmer manages to gain a strange semblance of attention by ”spazzing” out in school. And Dahmer discover that by faking epileptic convulsions he can gain some sort of popularity, so much so it was referred to as ”doing a Dahmer.” However, none of his peers would really know Dahmer’s dark side. The film starts off with Dahmer collecting and dissolving road kill in his makeshift shed lab, which is certainly cause for concern, but it is Dahmer’s awkward interactions with his peers, family, and authority figures, that bring the shivers. He seems distant with everyone, and home his parents played by Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts constantly row and belittle each other, that it’s no surprise that Dahmer feels isolated in the world.
Former Disney star Ross Lynch brings a perfect blend of desperation and menace to the complicated lead. He has issues, but what outcast teen doesn’t? Among his many quirks, Dahmer’s seemingly innocuous interest in a neighbourhood jogger, however this is more than just a schoolboy crush, Dahmer reveals that he knows the man’s schedule. The obsession builds up to the point where Dahmer ends up lurking in the bushes waiting to do the unthinkable just to have some sort of human contact. Director Marc Meyers, manages to bring out the best performances from his cast, and Meyer’s director is very strong, if this film had been shot by anyone else then I don’t think it would have been as good. Meyers decides to show us very little gore and violence, and instead creates dread which leaves you disturbed long after the film has finished.
Dahmer’s bunch of loser friends are highly enjoyable too, Alex Wolff as John ‘Derf’ Backderf is very good, and there’s one scene towards the end with Dahmer that will have you in the edge of your seat, Wolff is our real hero here and he is the teen who Dahmer should be. However, it is the performances by Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts in the roles of the parents, that stands out to me. This is the best acting I’ve seen from Anne Heche, she plays Dahmer’s mother as being both irritating, insufferable and sympathetic, this is a woman who is in need of mental help but is belittled and misunderstood. Roberts is also quite good, playing Dahmer’s father as this weak, beta male who doesn’t know how to cope with his wife, and certainly has no idea how to communicate with his strange son.
Overall, watching the movie can be tough going, but not for the reasons you might think. Watching a kid as painfully awkward and then as deeply depressed as Dahmer go through the torture of Middle American high school can be truly excruciating, all the more so because it seems to be happening in slow motion, like watching a car crash. Dahmer struggles to remain sober, drinking heavily at school (when asked about his reason for sneaking bottles into class, he replies back with ”it’s my medicine”). You almost want to reach into the screen and help him, but it’s too late. This isn’t fiction, this is fact…Dahmer didn’t receive any help, his situation went far, far downhill, so much so that his crimes could never be shown on-screen, as we’re just not ready to witness that horror. The film ends just before Dahmer kills his first vicitm, picking him up from the roadside in his little red bettle, we see the film pull away and disappear into traffic, and then we end there…we don’t need to witness what happens next and it is left for our knowledge and our imagination to fill into the blanks.
I was surprised to discovered that the film was filmed in the actual house that the real Jeffrey Dahmer grew up in, knowing that fact just makes the film that little more disturbing. I will urge you watch this film if you get the opportunity, as it’s one of the most chilling horror films that I have seen for a while, simply because it’s not a horror film, it’s reality.