The quiet before the blood – My Friend Dahmer (Film Review)

*** Stars

A school bus, some roadkill and the dull eyes of Dahmer sat alone among the “normal” kids, this is Jeff before the murders, the quiet before the blood. At first glance it appears to be a typical American coming of age story about a kid – throw in a shed of slowly dissolving dead rodents in glass jars, several black bags of dead animals, a divorce and you’ve got My Friend Dahmer directed by Marc Meyers (How He Fell in Love, 2016).

The name Jeffrey Dahmer alone has weight to it and to anybody that knows of his crimes they’ll expect a film on the man to carry it’s own weight – My Friend Dahmer does less than that in this drawn out piece that the first quarter of all the documentaries about him accomplished in a much more gripping way.

This film was born out of the graphic novel produced by John Backderf of the same name who is played by actor Alex Wolff (Patriots Day). The novel chronicles what John observed of Jeff during their friendship. Bearing in mind John had absolutely no idea that Jeff would become an infamous serial killer committing horrific acts, to him he was simply that weird and entertaining kid from school – at least at first.

The viewer is immediately introduced to Jefferey’s shed or “laboratory” as he calls it, filled with roadkill he collects from the long strip of road by his family home, only to force them into jars accompanied with low volume acid. They remain in the jars for months until they’re reduced to bones – adding to his large collection. With an absent father, a self medicated mother, he finds solace in his laboratory, amongst his dissolving flesh.

Before the parents divorce, the father destroys his place of solace and gifts him with dumbbells, instructing him to be ‘normal’, make friends and attract the girls at school. He follows these instructions awkwardly, but without his laboratory he grows frustrated and continues to trap and collect dead animals – although they no longer satisfy him. The only difference now is the friends he’s made that find humour in his crazy antics; one of whom is John ‘Derf’ Backderf.

The piece shows Jeffrey Dahmer’s disturbing desire to see what’s inside these varied sacks of skin and takes you right up to the moments before his first killing – at the age of 18 – of Stephen Hicks on the summer of 1978 when he’s no longer able to contain himself.

The lead Ross Lynch is best known for his part in the Disney series Austin & Ally (2011 – 2016) and with his appealing features and popularity to the younger generation it’s always a risk to feature in a piece as a sadistic serial killer. But in terms of acting versatility Lynch has proven more than able – it’s just a shame that it was in a piece that didn’t excite nor intrigue the viewer.

The visuals of the piece can be said to be reminiscent of Zodiac which is set roughly around the same time and is also about a killer. The cinematography by Daniel Katz (Funny Games, 2007) provides a perfect frame in which to stare into Dahmer’s psyche – there are no risks taken in terms of technique.

The only questionable sequence was the scene when Dahmer – whilst being filmed – decides to “spazz out” in the shopping mall amongst strangers for the other classmates amusement. This scene featured a rotating close up while Dahmer – frustrated – rubs his face and head with his hands. This technique has been overused in cinema to a point that it’s now laughable and for it to have been executed at such a important moment in the film is disappointing.

It’ll always sell to make a piece on a murderer, proof of that is clear with the upcoming Ted Bundy film featuring Zac Efron, although filmmakers shouldn’t rely too much on the level of interest that comes with these infamous psychopaths, rather they should approach the piece as though it was unheard of, so they may create that level of interest. Although there is one guarantee, any fans of the graphic novel My Friend Dahmer (2012) will be sure to love the fleshed out adaption, as it provides the fans with two options in which to experience this story told by John Backderf.

Dir: Marc Meyers

Scr: Marc Meyers, John Backderf

Cast: Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Joyce Dahmer, Lionel Dahmer

Prd: Giorgio Angelini, William K. Baker, Marc Meyers

DOP: Daniel Katz

Music: Andrew Hollander

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Runtime: 107 mins

My Friend Dahmer (2017) is in cinemas 1st June 2018