Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. He only stopped after being captured and put in prison. My Friend Dahmer is the story before that story.
Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is an awkward teenager who collects road kill. Young Jeffrey puts these “finds” in bottles filled with acid to dissolve the skin and insides. He likes bones. He’s practically invisible at school. His family life is unraveling. His parents are constantly arguing.
Jeffrey’s mother Joyce (Anne Heche) has had a stint in a mental institution and is clearly not the full bottle much of the time. His father Lionel (Dallas Roberts) is a chemist, who admits he spends far too much time in the laboratory. He however acknowledges that he was a loner and encourages Jeffrey to socialise and participate in sports. But Jeffrey says little and keeps to himself. Basically, nothing changes.
The young Dahmer fixates on a neighborhood jogger (Vincent Kartheiser) who routinely passes by his house. You can only imagine his thoughts about that man. His obsession with death only grows. By the start of senior year, he acts out at school, throwing epileptic-like fits in the halls.
His goofball antics win over a group of band-nerds who form The Dahmer Fan Club headed by Derf Backderf (Alex Wolff). He seems to befriend Jeffrey for the disruptive influence he perceives Dahmer could have. (I couldn’t get away from the feeling that Backderf had selfish reasons for doing so.) But even this camaraderie can’t mask his growing depravity. Approaching graduation Jeffrey spirals further out of control. He retreats into alcohol; stalking; and killing. He devolves.
Written and directed by Marc Meyers (How He Fell In Love), My Friend Dahmer is based on Derf Backderf’s 2012 graphic novel of the same name. The way the story is told, it’s not hard to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It’s hard not to be influenced by what’s happening around him. We witness the usual teasing and bullying that goes on at most schools – not just of Dahmer but mainly, in fact, of others. Mind you, that doesn’t usually produce serial killers. But while his mother’s delusions never seem dangerous, his do. He’s a ticking time bomb, just waiting for that explosive device to detonate.
Ross Lynch (Austin & Ally) plays Jeffrey with stooped shoulders and a decided gait. In his body, Dahmer stands out for all the wrong reasons. Roberts’ and Heche’s roles add to building a picture about the son their characters are raising. Alex Wolff (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) displays charisma as the talented illustrator Backderf.
My Friend Dahmer is an insightful and disturbing film.
Director: Marc Meyers
Cast: Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Dallas Roberts, Anne Heche
Release Date: 31 May 2018 (limited)
Other reviews you might enjoy:
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television