New Jeffrey Dahmer Film Delivers
By CC Trifoso
If you think this movie will be a jumpscare-ridden horror movie with unpleasant mutilating scenes, you’re very wrong. The film “My Friend Dahmer” delves into the emotional terror of a person, showcasing the upbringing of a broken teen who takes his corrupted thoughts and turns them into a disturbing reality.
The newly-released movie, directed by Marc Meyers, is an adaption from Derf Backderf’s graphic novel My Friend Dahmer. The novel takes the reader into the seventies when Backderf attended Revere High School in Richfield, Ohio. It goes through stories Backderf has about being friends with Dahmer during those fateful years which would transform him into a depraved killer.
“I began collecting material for this book a few weeks after Dahmer’s ghastly crimes became public in July 1991,” Backderf explains in My Friend Dahmer. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the material, but I recognized that here was a remarkable tale - one that wasn’t being told by the mainstream media that swarmed Dahmer’s wake - and my friendship with Jeff provided me with a unique perspective.”
Jeffrey Dahmer is one of America’s most well-known serial killers. Also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, from 1978 to 1991 he murdered, raped, and dismembered 17 boys. Before he was murdered in prison in 1994, Dahmer was unusually truthful about his crimes, which is why the media knows so much about him and why people are so interested in this life.
Backderf makes it very clear that his novel is in no way a story about an anti-hero Dahmer.
“Once Dahmer kills, however - and I can’t stress this enough - my sympathy for him ends. … Dahmer was a twisted wretch whose depravity was almost beyond comprehension. Pity him, but don’t empathize with him,” Backderf added.
“My Friend Dahmer” initially premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in late April of 2017 and started playing in theatres across America on November 3rd. I saw it at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco. It’s a small venue, having only one viewing room, and the first time I attended the show the theatre was packed, which really set the atmosphere.
To my surprise, the movie had no narrator, unlike the novel. The story went through Dahmer’s eyes instead of Backderf’s, a detail that would prove to be very intriguing and produced a new feeling of uneasiness, as if I had no idea how the movie was going to turn out (I read the graphic novel before seeing the movie). But without this outer view, does the movie make viewers sympathize with Dahmer, achieving what Backderf avoided in his novel?
To me, the only times I felt sympathy were when his parents neglected him or when The Dahmer Fanclub took their jokes a bit too far. Ross Lynch, musician and former Disney Channel star, as Dahmer, did a stunning job at portraying how the gears were turning in Dahmer’s mind at these points and how it would affect him in the long-run. It really shows the audience how being disregarded can set a person on a path of destruction.
The movie began by introducing what led Dahmer to become so troubled. Dahmer is on a bus ride home, eyeing a dead cat on the side of the road. A jogger runs by and you see how he piques Dahmer’s interest. A chilling start to a masterpiece that would have everyone in the theatre unable to peel their eyes away.
To put it simply, I loved the movie. After months of waiting for it to be released in my city, I was not let down. But, and without spoiling too much, there were some parts of the movie that caught me off guard, though, not in a bad way. The idea to take out the narrator worked really well when transitioning the book into a movie. There were many scenes that weren’t in the novel that were added to the movie, and I’m not sure if they were true but certainly added more to the plot.
For example, Backderf was placed in many scenes that, in real life, weren’t from his memory. These stories told to him by classmates, like the scene where the class takes a trip to Washington D.C. and meets the Vice President (yes, Dahmer actually met the Vice President of the United States) or when Dahmer slices up a sunfish while fishing instead of throwing it back into the lake.
A major part of the film focused on Dahmer’s time in high school, when Backderf and a group of friends created a “Dahmer Fanclub”. Looking back at it now, Backderf realizes that they probably took the whole joke a bit too far, but he also comments on the fact that it was probably the happiest time in Dahmer’s life. The fanclub’s purpose was to “disrupt the school” with Backderf officially titling himself as the Minister of Propaganda, and would often draw Dahmer in certain situations. With this emerged “Dahmerisms”, as Backderf called them, or when Dahmer would go into a fit of spasms. The movie explained that this was an imitation of Dahmer’s interior decorator who has cerebral palsy, and this is the only part of the movie that seemed as if they weren’t telling the complete story.
The imitation spasms were actually replicas of Joyce Dahmer (Jeffrey’s mother) who had been dealing with mental issues and breakdowns since Jeff was a young child. In the novel, Backderf explains that Joyce would often go into fits so intense that she was left sprawled on the floor in sweat and tears. This was such an important part in Dahmer’s transformation, which left me wondering why they would leave out such a thing.
The movie did an extraordinary job with visuals and cinematography. Because the movie was filmed in Dahmer’s childhood home in Bath, Ohio, the audience was able to feel a part of the movie. Each scene was so visually stunning that you couldn’t look away. The movie played really well with natural sounds - there was almost no music. The movie was dark and solemn and focused on the silence. You could see that every scene was carefully thought out and designed to captivate the audience.
Yet, from the beauty comes the terrible realization of it all - this actually happened; this was someone’s life. Seeing it unfold leaves you with an uncomfortable feeling and makes you shift in your seat.
Dahmer had to live through his parent’s constant fighting, teenage awkwardness, being gay in the seventies, and battling against himself to resist the sinister urges that were bubbling inside of him. As a teen myself, it was heart-wrenching to watch as Dahmer would chug bottles and bottles of alcohol to deal with the stress, and to eventually see the downfall and what turned him into the monster we all know. When we left the theatre, one of the friends I saw it with was crying because she found it so disturbing. The movie really hits you where it hurts because of it’s ability to get you emotionally shaken.
The movie ends with Dahmer picking up the hitchhiker, Steven Hicks, on the side of the freeway two weeks after his high school graduation. The screen fades to black and it leaves you wanting more, but then you remember what happened next. You sit there in the theatre as people around you clap, begin to leave, or, are bewildered by the two hours that have just gone by. If you enjoy the art of movies, true crime stories, or just really love Ross Lynch, I highly recommend this film. But be warned, you might leave speechless. I know I did.