Some have a hard enough time at school as it is, but imagine sitting next to a serial killer in the making. Meyers’ MY FRIEND DAHMER explores the dark and twisted upbringing of Jeffrey Dahmer – transforming from misunderstood teen to cannibal killer.
Distancing himself far from his Disney crutch, Ross Lynch disturbs audiences with an eerily uncanny resemblance to Dahmer both visually and behaviourally. Known infamously as the Milwaukee Cannibal, Dahmer targeted and murdered seventeen boys and men before ultimately meeting his demise in prison. Audiences are seldom told the humane backstory to many of these prolific individuals, who are often shown as monsters who deserve no mercy – but MY FRIEND DAHMER is the exception that proves the rule. The success of the story, even pre-film, lies in the documented experiences of one of Dahmer’s classmates, John “Derf” Backderf (Alex Wolff) who published a graphic novel of the same name back in 2012. His first hand encounters allowed the director and screenwriter, Marc Meyers, to construct a complex and accurate drama detailing the fruition of Dahmer’s instincts.
Fascinated by bones and biology Dahmer, was a modern day Aristotle with a sinister motive. Concerned for his son’s social health, his father (played by Dallas Roberts) banishes Dahmer from his make-shift roadkill morgue in the garden shed and gifts him a set of dumb-bells in exchange. Branded the ‘weird kid’ at school, Dahmer soon piques the interest of some other students, including Derf. The Dahmer fan club soon forms, with one desperate goal: to cause havoc and annoyance around the school. The notoriety and attention the fan club brings soon distorts Dahmer’s view of the world, and his once animal-focussed morbidity stretches into his blossoming social life until the inevitable happens. MY FRIEND DAHMER is a deeply calculated biopic which descends into an abyss of sexuality, frustration and desire.
Set between Dahmer’s actual home and a high school in 1978, the film as a serious and adult remit which is masked by the juvenile nature of the characters. This maintains a level of uncertainty and discomfort from the opening scene until the last, and Dahmer’s first murder is approaching as the film ends, with a display of statistics illustrating Dahmer’s legacy. Choosing to focus solely on the development of the character before the reached notoriety aids well in the reception and credibility of the film. Instead of recreating gory and unpleasant scenes of murder, MY FRIEND DAHMER chooses to hint at the thoughts throughout Dahmer’s teenage mind, ultimately resulting in a more accessible experience that is functionally darker – there is more power behind sly glances and ‘what ifs’ compared to a slasher killing.
The camera angles used around Dahmer throughout the film are precisely designed to maximise the discomfort of the audience. Long and narrow shots drone out the hollow and dark of his mind, and unsettling panning shots are often used to exaggerate his voyeurism. The slightly muted sepia tones of the colour palette not only represent the time period well but also reflect the unsettling and disturbed family network which inevitably pushes Dahmer towards his heinous future. Aesthetically this film not only looks the part but is patched together in such a way that the story draws the audience from scene to scene as if they are the one creeping on Jeffrey.
Defying any genre, MY FRIEND DAHMER occupies a unique and attractive position somewhere between a high school drama, a psychological thriller and a crime story. Already excelling at international film festivals, and boasting an impressive performance from Lynch who will no doubt be launched into the bright lights of Hollywood, the film is receiving much praise for Lynch and Meyers particularly, heralding the accolade of possibly ‘the darkest film of the year’…