MY FRIEND DAHMER (2017)
Directed by Marc Meyers
Written by Marc Meyers (screenplay, based on the book My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf)
Starring Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Tommy Nelson, Vincent Kartheiser, Adam Kroloff, Jack DeVillers, Miles Robbins, Gabriela Novogratz, Sydney Jane Meyer, Brady M.K. Dunn, Michael Ryan Boehm, Liam Koeth, Harrison Holzer, Cameron McKendry, Jake Ingrassia, Kris Smith, Joey Vee, Tom Lepera, Christopher Mele, Brigid Naughton, Maryanne Nagel, Katie Stottlemire, Dontez James, Nancy Telzerow, Dave Sorboro & Tom Luce as Vice President Walter Mondale!
Find out more about this film here, @MyFriendDahmer, and on Facebook here
True crime films are often a rough pill to swallow. Growing up in the eighties, I learned to root on my demented killers. But those guys where drowned boys from a lake or a dream demon from nightmares, not people who actually existed and took human lives. I always get a pang of weirdness watching any reenactment of the lives of infamous serial killers and while most of them are made for TV or low fi schlockers, MY FRIEND DAHMER takes the material seriously without sensationalizing much and sticking to uncovering why a person can do such despicable acts and not be noticed.
Not that I feel sorry for Jeffrey Dahmer. I don’t, but this film sure does work hard to make you understand what it was like walking in his shoes. A slump-shouldered loner who isn’t even seen enough to be bullied by the cops, Dahmer (played amazingly by Ross Lynch) shuffles through life trying to stay out of the way of his manic depressive mother Joyce (played by Anne Heche), overworked father Lionel (Dallas Roberts) and neglected little brother David (Liam Koeth). As his parents relationship crumbles apart, Jeffrey’s father attempts to get him to come out of his shell by destroying the shack in the woods behind their house where he dissolves roadkill to play with animal bones and urging him to go make friends. And he ends up doing just that when a group of kids, lead by Derf (Alex Wolff) notice Dahmer’s tendency to act out as a way to have their own personal puppet of chaos through their senior year of high school. Urging Dahmer to use his ability to be unseen, the group causes much disruption but never really become friends with him—simply using him to have someone to laugh at. Meanwhile, a monster is growing inside Dahmer who develops a habit of drugs and alcohol and his hunger for a puppet of his own to be a companion to intensifies.
What everyone knows after someone if found to be a serial killer, mass murderer, terrorist, what have you, is “what made him that way?” It’s a fair question, but never an easy one to say. If I were a more sympathetic type, I could sympathize and say that all Dahmer needed was a friend. Had he the attention of his parents or the support of someone who understood what it was like growing up a homosexual, Dahmer might have never taken the steps to become such a monster. Then again, there are many out there in the exact same situation that didn’t kill. But this film doesn’t seem to exist to explain the making of a monster. It presents all the facts plainly, but seems more intent on depicting and possibly abolishing a feeling a guilt had by this group of high schoolers who used Dahmer as a joke by showing all of the factors involved in the escalation the budding serial killer experienced in his senior year. And I don’t know if it’s completely successful at doing that.
As much as this film is adept in telling a complete tale of Dahmer and the pressures of the dissolving marriage of his parents and of his life as a high school misfit, a lot of what is presented in the story are details that Derf would have not been privy to and feels more like stuff anyone could have gotten from the many interviews the chatty serial killer made after being apprehended. While the strength of the film is that it presents the dark, secluded life of Jeffrey Dahmer in an unflinching and downright suspenseful manner, it doesn’t feel like a genuine story about a teenager who befriends such a person. I haven’t read the comic by the actual Derf Backderf yet and hope to do so soon, but an intimate look at the guilt someone who might have had in pushing someone like that over the edge is a subject that is only played with in this film. While that might be the intention behind the project, it feels depicting Dahmer’s secret moments is the real focus on MY FRIEND DAHMER.
MY FRIEND DAHMER is filled with fantastic acting across the board. Anne Heche is amazing as Joyce Dahmer, struggling with addiction and mental illness herself, but still managing to have a few tender moments showing she truly cared about her family in her own bent way. Dallas Roberts continues to be a formidable acting force here as the beleaguered Lionel Dahmer who means well, but lacks the energy and drive to be what Dahmer needs for him to be. His struggles to be a good father in the midst of Joyce’s whirlwind activities is heart wrenching. Alex Wolff plays the rambunctious and fun loving Derf, intent on being a comic book artist and while he doesn’t think his actions of pushing Dahmer to make a fool of himself for his own enjoyment is bad, he still sees Dahmer as a friend in an aloof, teenage boy sort of way that works here. But the film is stolen by Ross Lynch who embodies the shy, withdrawn, and oddball Jeffrey Dahmer, who will actually succeed in making you feel for him. Lynch is able to mimic Dahmer with every move being second guessed and timid as he brings the dreams of his dark fantasies closer to reality. It’s just a stellar performance all around.
Those who know Dahmer’s early years understand that he began his bloodlust with animals, but thankfully, aside from a formaldehyde pig and some cat roadkill, we don’t have to endure any harm to animals on screen. There is one gory moment late in the game, but the real palpable feelings of dread, disgust, and horror comes from the knowledge of what Jeffrey will become, not what he is doing in this story. That’s where the beauty of MY FRIEND DAHMER resides. It counts on us knowing what will happen, so simply having Dahmer walking through a crowded hallway is enough to give us the creeps with that knowledge. This is a deft bio pic of a notorious man. A little wobbly in it’s true intentions, but MY FRIEND DAHMER will chill anyone familiar with the case and entire those unfamiliar to find out what horrific deeds the killer performed after the credits of this film roll.