Marc Meyers’ 2017 biographical drama ‘My Friend Dahmer’ documents the year before American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer began the killing spree that made him one of the most infamous murderers in history. Before this point, he was a high school senior, whose behaviour was becoming more and more bizarre and antisocial. The film doesn’t try to pinpoint the root of the problem, or excuse what he later came to do, but instead takes us on a moving and incredibly disturbing journey of a simultaneous entry into adulthood and descent into madness.
The film is based on the graphic novel by John Backderf, a cartoonist who formed a kind of friendship with Dahmer in their last year of high school, and made him somewhat of an infamous figure in their senior year.
Jeffrey Dahmer, played with a haunting awkwardness by Ross Lynch, is a kind of unfunny Napoleon Dynamite figure. He walks through the school halls, with his hunched posture and shuffling gait, for the most part unnoticed. That is until a budding cartoonist classmate, John ‘Derf’ Backderf, sees something in Dahmer that inspires him. His new friends encourage him to spontaneously break out in a deranged frenzy in different locations, shouting and convulsing in a fashion that they later refer to as ‘doing a Dahmer’. Soon, the laughter dies down and Dahmer begins drinking heavily and acting more and more strangely to try and squeeze out the laughs and attention from his peers that he has begun to enjoy. What they don’t know is that behind closed doors, Dahmer is dissolving animals in acid in his makeshift science lab, and stalking people in bushes with baseball bats.
Throughout the film we know that his killing obsession will at some point progress from animals to humans, but the film is not about that. This story ends just before he commits his first murder. It is more concerned with the signs that, after the fact, everyone wished they had noticed at the time.
The film is shot beautifully in Ohio, capturing the picturesque surroundings and the style of the 70s. Alex Wolff is brilliant as Derf, and there is an incredibly tense and memorable scene in which the realisation kicks in for Derf that his comical pal could actually be hiding something much more sinister. It’s an uncomfortable watch, but it is a fascinating study of a teenager dealing with feelings of isolation, budding homosexuality, and his erratic home life. It will leave you feeling uneasy, but it’s a unique biopic and one that takes a look at a part of a killer’s life that is often ignored.
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