Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Review #1,351: 'My Friend Dahmer' (2017)

The antics of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer following his graduation from Ohio's Revere High School in 1978 does not make for pleasant reading. He was responsible for the mutilation and murders of 17 men and boys, with his activities including injecting hydrochloric acid in the skulls of some of his victims in an attempt to induce a zombie-like state, the collection of body parts, necrophilia, and cannibalism. When Dahmer was arrested in 1991, multiple severed heads were found in his apartment, as well as human organs in the freezer wrapped up like leftover take-away. Dahmer attended school with cartoonist John 'Derf' Backderf, and the two became friends. When Derf saw his old pal's face splashed across the pages of every newspaper in the country after his capture, he reflected on his school days, eventually penning the award-winning graphic novel My Friend Dahmer.

There's always a risk when dramatising the life of a serial killer of sensationalising the subject matter or, perhaps even worse, trying to make us feel sorry for them. Director and screenwriter Marc Meyers' adaptation of Derf's comic has no such interests, opting instead to keep the focus solely on Dahmer's experiences during his high school years and up to his encounter with a hitchhiker who would become his first victim just three weeks after graduating, in the hope of trying to understand what would drive a handsome young man to go on to commit such terrible and sickening crimes. Dahmer, played wonderfully by former Disney child star Ross Lynch, is strange and withdrawn when we first meet him. Of course, this is no different to any child who feels out of place or socially awkward, and deep down he desired affection or at least the next best thing, attention. He starts to cause scenes by pretending to be disabled, acting out in lessons or in the hallways until he establishes himself as class clown.

This attracts the attention of Derf (played by Alex Wolff) and his crew, who are looking to stir up some mischief before they finally graduate. They play on Dahmer's willingness to do just about anything for a giggle, egging him on to sneak into as many club yearbook photos as possible and doing his handicapped shtick on demand. It's funny at first, before becoming incredibly tragic, and his friends start to feel the same way. Dahmer's mental state isn't helped by the break-up of his parents, and is eventually abandoned by his mother at home, leaving the troubled boy to withdraw further into his darkest fantasies. My Friend Dahmer succeeds in trying to understand Dahmer's downfall and how such a fate may have even been avoided if events went a slightly different way. It doesn't attempt to explain it or, thankfully, excuse it, avoiding the biography trap of unrealistically portraying a defining moment that led to whatever deed or life they are famous, or infamous, for. It's all rather sad, but utterly engrossing. My Friend Dahmer is that incredibly rare thing: a very good serial killer biopic.

Directed by: Marc Meyers
Starring: Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Dallas Roberts, Anne Heche, Vincent Kartheiser
Country: USA

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

My Friend Dahmer (2017) on IMDb

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