As a self-confessed true crime addict (hello to any fellow Murderinos reading), hearing the news that director Marc Meyers was working on a Jeffrey Dahmer biopic was welcome. But does My Friend Dahmer live up to its notorious title character’s reputation?
Jeff Dahmer (played by Disney channel alum Ross Lynch) is the ‘weird kid’ at his high school. As a loner, he spends all of his free time in his shed, soaking roadkill in acid to strip it of its skin – in his words, “I like bones”. With his mother recently released from a psychiatric unit, and with his parents on the brink of a messy divorce, the shed is his sanctuary, a place to hide away from the shouting at home and the staring and whispers of his classmates . Jeff isn’t like the other kids in his neighbourhood, that’s clear.
After acting out at school, causing a scene by pretending to have a fit on the hallway floor, Dahmer impresses John ‘Derf’ Backderf (Alex Wolff) and his friends. He’s welcomed into their circle, and they’re surprised they’ve never noticed Jeff before – he’s funny, a fellow nerd, and is happy to be centre of attention by pulling pranks. But as the practical jokes start to take a mean twist, verging on bullying, and Jeff starts to distance himself, the people closest to him start to suspect that he isn’t as ‘normal’ as he’s made himself out to be.
Ross Lynch might be a new face to many, but he won’t be for long. His standout performance as Dahmer is fascinating; so studied, so creepy, so real. The slouch in his shoulders, the frown, the shuffle as he walks – Lynch is brilliant. You can’t take your eyes off him, and despite knowing the horrors he goes on to commit in the future, we can’t wait to watch what happens next.
Adapted from Backderf’s graphic novel of the same name, My Friend Dahmer chronicles Jeff’s senior year of school, as he teeters on the edge of ‘losing it’. With strong performances from the main cast, and a narrative that slowly builds to an uncomfortable crescendo, it’s an enjoyable twist on the typical serial killer horror film/biopic story.
However, like Jeff with his friends, something feels off. Considering the source material, there has to be a lot of conjecture, especially in the moments hidden from public view (in his bedroom as he fights against his sexuality; his twisted dreams; sitting in the living room as his parents fight around him). We follow Dahmer has he moves from his tumultuous home life, to being tortured by bullies at school, back to his house to witness more screaming arguments. We start to feel empathetic towards him; him, a soon-to-be murderer, taking the lives of 17 young men. Emerging from the screening, we’re left feeling confused – can I feel sorry for a sad, lonely teenager, considering what we know about his future?
No matter the ethical dilemmas of feeling sympathy towards Jeff, My Friend Dahmer is an eerie origin story of one of America’s most wanted. Gripping from the start, Lynch is the breakout star, destined to have everyone know his name (not unlike Dahmer himself…).
My Friend Dahmer is showing in UK cinemas now.