REVIEW: Marc Meyers Delves Into the Mind of a Serial Killer in MY FRIEND DAHMER

REVIEW: Marc Meyers Delves Into the Mind of a Serial Killer in MY FRIEND DAHMER

REVIEW: Marc Meyers Delves Into the Mind of a Serial Killer in MY FRIEND DAHMER

What makes a murderer? Derf Backderf’s graphic novel MY FRIEND DAHMER tells the true story of the serial killer as a teenager, and its film adaptation is out now. But how is it? Click here to find out.

Hidden among the big blockbuster comic book movies coming from the Big Two is My Friend Dahmer, a small, independent drama based on a small, independent graphic novel from cartoonist Derf Backderf (pen name of John Backderf). Released in 2012, the graphic novel is an intimate retelling of Backderf’s experiences in high school when he befriended the unassuming and awkward Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer, of course, would later become one of America’s most infamous serial murderers, having killed 17 young men until his capture in 1991.

But this isn’t that story. This is what happened before.

Director and screenwriter Marc Meyers brings My Friend Dahmer to the screen in an attempt to capture the youthful but slightly deranged story of Backderf’s memory of high school Dahmer. It’s an attempt to understand the person who came before the monster.

The film begins with Dahmer (Ross Lynch) at the end of his junior year. He has no friends, no love interests, and little connection with his family. He finds solace in performing odd experiments on roadkill, but his father’s urges to be more normal and make friends leads to Dahmer’s finding another form of experimentation.

When Jeffrey returns to school for his senior year, he begins to imitate signs of epilepsy and muscle spasms in various locations of his school. The other students react to his “spazzing” in equal parts confusion, fear and amusement. This catches the attention of his classmate, Derf Backderf (Alex Wolff), who forms the Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club with a small group of friends. The boys welcome Dahmer into their circle, encouraging him to “do a Dahmer” at different spots around their hometown. This later becomes a point of contention among the fan club; are they really his friends, or are they simply using him for their own enjoyment?

Meanwhile and unbeknownst to his new friends, Dahmer’s family is unraveling. It becomes clear that much of his insecurity and introversion stems from feeling unwanted and invisible to his parents while not being able to relate to his younger brother. He adopts alcohol as a coping mechanism, and, as his parents become more and more distant, eventually becoming absent from the film all together, the frequency and volume of Dahmer’s drinking increases.

Though the main plot focuses on the relationship between the Fan Club and its namesake, the narrative does spend a lot of time juxtaposing the more social Dahmer with the person he is when he’s alone. He struggles with his sexuality and his urges to kill and dissect animals, and his obsession with a jogger who passes his home several times a week leaves the audience wondering if Dahmer’s gaze is longing to murder the runner or to sleep with him. It’s apparent, too, that Dahmer himself is unable to make this distinction.

Where My Friend Dahmer shines is in the main actors’ performances. Ross Lynch plays the awkward and creepy Dahmer very well. His silence is often louder than when he does speak, and everything from his often blank face to his constant slouch gives the audience a glimpse into his mind. Backderf, played by Alex Wolff, is the typical slacker troublemaker, but there’s a natural quality about the way Wolff performs a teenager in the 1970s. The product is somewhere between Dazed and Confused and Scream. However, the rest of the Dahmer Fan Club falls short in their development, and they become background characters to the relationship between Backderf and Dahmer. The young actors who play them do a fine job with what they’re required, but the sparse writing leaves much to be desired from their characters.

The surprise performance of the film is Anne Heche as Dahmer’s mentally unstable and neurotic mother. From her costuming to her speech, her portrayal is nothing short of a transformation—so much so that she is barely recognizable despite her appearance not being altered much at all; she hides herself in plain sight, as it were.

If there’s a real weakness to the film, it’s in the editing. The movie moves very quickly, often jumping in time and locations at a jarring pace. Very frequently, the setting has to be spoken by the characters to understand where and when we are in relation to the last scene, and this can easily take someone out of the movie. At times, everything is moving so quickly that it is difficult to fully digest the previous scene, and some interesting moments are lost in the noise. A seemingly pivotal scene, for instance, in which Dahmer is face to face with another student whose psychotic behaviors mirror his own is swept away by the moments following, and the exploration of that scene is just much too quick.

Meyers has crafted an interesting look into Jeffrey Dahmer’s mind, and while it is worth a watch, there’s not much to come back to later. Rewatchability is low on My Friend Dahmer, though the performances do propel it beyond mediocrity. Had the writing and the pacing allowed the audience to connect with the picture more, it would have lived up to its potential. Still, it’s enjoyable; it just leaves you wanting more.

C+

My Friend Dahmer is currently playing in select cities

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