The most disturbing thing about My Friend Dahmer may very well be that for a good majority of the film you will actually like the young high school student known as Jeff Dahmer, a socially awkward teenager struggling to make it through high school and to survive life with a family in ruins.
Dahmer, played masterfully by Disney Channel's Ross Lynch, isn't quite portrayed as a "normal" high school student in My Friend Dahmer but he also isn't really portrayed as the monster that we know he would become.
It's a brave choice for the film's writer director Marc Meyers, working from a critically acclaimed 2012 graphic novel by John "Derf" Backderf, who spent several months during his time in high school as one of a group of band-nerds who come together to form The Dahmer Fan Club, a group that is seemingly attracted to Dahmer's offbeat and increasingly bizarre behavior and that subsequently fuels his increasingly depraved antics. As they near graduation, Dahmer's depravity intensifies and he spirals more and more out of control.
My Friend Dahmer is an emotionally riveting, occasionally funny, and true glimpse into the life of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer when he was in high school.
For some, the notion of humanizing a "monster" like Dahmer is indefensible. The notion of anything resembling sympathy is absurd, yet My Friend Dahmer is a powerful reminder that every monster is also something else.
Recently released on Blu-ray by indie distributor FilmRise, My Friend Dahmer includes not just the stellar film but also an interview with Ross Lynch, a behind-the-scenes slide show, and the film's original theatrical trailer. While one could easily hope for even more extensive extras considering the subject matter here, it's hard not to just be grateful that My Friend Dahmer actually gets a high quality Blu-ray release.
If you don't, by some chance, remember the story of Dahmer, he was a Wisconsin-based serial killer who raped, murdered, and dismembered 17 men and boys from 1978-1991. He was sentenced to 15 life terms on February 15, 1992 and in 1994 was beaten to death by a fellow prisoner in Columbia Correctional Institution.
Yet, before the killing Jeffrey Dahmer was a high school student.
My Friend Dahmer doesn't shy away from the things that, in retrospect, could have been signs that Dahmer was downward spiraling much further than anyone could have ever imagined. It's not the ever increasing tension-filled house in which he lived, but the unreasonably bizarre antics such as going into seizure-like fits of spasticity and, more disturbingly, his tendency to pick up roadkill, soak them in acid, then collects their bones.
It's known, of course, that Dahmer would eventually become a cannibal and killed his first young man when he was a mere 18-years-old.
But he was just weirdly normal, ya' know?
In addition to Lynch's breakout performance, Alex Wolff is riveting as Backderf, whose haphazard embrace of Dahmer is initially borne out of humor before Backderf himself becomes increasingly concerned about Dahmer's behavior. Anne Heche is also quite strong as Dahmer's pill-poppin' mom while Dallas Roberts convinces as dad Lionel Dahmer.
Lensing by Daniel Katz is strong throughout, creating an uncomfortable sense of intimacy and faux normalcy alongside Andrew Hollander's effective scoring for the film.
My Friend Dahmer won Best Picture at the Austin Fantastic Fest and proved to be quite popular throughout its festival run before attracting the attention of indie distributor FilmRise and snagging a limited nationwide release. While the film inevitably won't appeal to everyone, for those who embrace a different, thought-provoking approach to a genre that can be awfully paint-by-numbers it'll be a rewarding, if not quite entertaining, view.
For more information on My Friend Dahmer, visit the film's website linked to in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic