Director: Marc Meyers
Release: 7 October 2017 (London Film Festival), Spring 2018
From: Altitude Films
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: TBC
What is it that makes a serial killer commit the atrocious acts of violence they do? Are they born or are they made? What makes them tick? Is there anything we can do to prevent them from hurting or killing people? These are just some of the questions that have fascinated society about murderers for centuries, and in Marc Meyers’ bleak portrait of a serial killer, My Friend Dahmer, the story focuses on the early life of one of America’s most notorious murderers: Jeffrey Dahmer.
Having abused, mutilated and killed 17 men and boys over the course of 13 years, Dahmer is a disturbing person to shed light on in film. Set during his final year at high school, and ending on the eve of his first victim’s death, My Friend Dahmer is a tough film to get through, not because it is bad but because it is so disturbing to see his high school days alongside his evolution into a killer. His parent’s marriage is in tatters; he conducts experiments on dead animals, makes a fool of himself at school to get friends, and has recently become aware of his homosexuality — all of this playing some part in his growing desire to kill.
He’s consumed by violent thoughts, of dead bodies and bouts of rage, and as he becomes more comfortable with his new state of mind his actions begin to escalate at a disturbing rate. Ross Lynch, a popular singer and Disney star, is completely transformed in the lead role. He bears an uncanny resemblance to the killer, with his floppy blonde hair, oversized glasses and lethargic attitude. This is his film for the taking, and through his unnerving performance he’s able to do just that as he commands every scene without fail.
The film is based on the autobiographical comic book by John “Derf” Backderf, and combines Derf’s high school allegory with various notable incidents in Dahmer’s private life. His fascination with a male runner, who was the first person he ever felt the need to kill, as well as his alcoholism and strained relationship with his parents are all featured. It’s almost like there are two films here, the high school drama that you expect from American coming-of-age films and the chilling examination of the creation of a serial killer. There’s an interesting duality to the story because of this, and it makes for an intriguing, if alarming, case study.
This is a disturbing film, and it raises the question of why make it? Why do we really need to know about this cruel man’s early life? It’s a hard topic to consider, let alone watch for two hours, but Ross Lynch’s engrossing performance and Marc Meyers’ frank direction helps make it intriguing. Just prepare a happy family film or rom-com to watch afterwards, you’ll probably need it.
Review by Roxy Simons