I never thought I’d say this but, after watching ‘My Friend Dahmer’, I sort of feel bad for the guy. I mean, take away the animal killing, serial killing, dismemberment, sexual assaults, cannibalism and necrophilia and he was just a high school loser with no friends. ‘My Friend Dahmer’, based on the exceptional graphic novel of the same name, allows us to join Jeffrey Dahmer in the last months of his high school career, shortly before he began the career the world would know him for, to see just how a series of poorly timed events could have helped turn him into a killer. Maybe “turned him into” is putting a bit too much credit to a fairly short time span, but they certainly gave him the push he needed to step over the edge.
In ‘My Friend Dahmer’, Jeffrey Dahmer is presented as someone who seems off right from the start, which makes sense as we all know where this story eventually concludes. Dahmers’ hobbies are few, consisting mostly of watching a particular jogger run past his family’s home everyday and collecting and preserving roadkill. This roadkill collecting hobby seems to be something his parents are fine with (likely because they are wrapped up in their marital problems and not paying him much attention) until there marriage starts to dissolve, much like Jeffery’s animals. Once things start to fall apart , Dahmers’ father destroys the jars and their contents, insisting that Jeffrey go and make friends at school instead of hiding in his dead animal shack all day. Left without much choice, Jeffrey does just that, though calling the group of boys he hangs around with “friends” is a bit of a stretch. I’d say acquaintance at best, friendly bullies at worst. That said, Derf Backderf states multiple times that they were truly his friends despite that friendship seeming a bit one sided, but who am I to judge the antics of high school students from the late ’70s?
The only way Dahmer can determine to make friends is to “spazz out” in public, which entertains his new acquaintances to no end. He quickly becomes their mascot and they become obsessed with his public freakouts and classroom disruptions, dubbing themselves “The Dahmer Fan Club.” The obsession they have with him is real, with Derf routinely sketching pictures of Dahmer in various situations and as various objects; “celebrating” him in any way they can. They even go as far as to sneak him into every club photo for that years school yearbook, which gets discovered and dealt with as you’d expect. Dahmers’ clown-like behavior eventually dip into sad clown territory though, as his family falls further and further apart due to his parents divorce and his subsequent slow slip into alcoholism. During this descent he withdraws from the “Dahmer Fan Club” instead spending his time alone, drinking, contemplating killing animals and larger prey. The end of the film finds Dahmer newly graduated, back to being essentailly on his own due to his parents divorce and work schedule, with ample time to contemplate the fucked up thoughts that surely swirling around his head. You know the rest of the story from here, which is ground the ‘My Friend Dahmer’ wisely chooses not to tread.
Showing us how the murderer came to be is far more interesting than just making a movie filled with exploitative kill shots we’ve all seen done to death. Doubly so when you consider we are in a renaissance of sorts for true crime, so people are already fairly familiar with the actual killings and what happened after he was captured. That this story is told from a first hand biographical account is what makes it so impactful, and though it might not be filled with (much) stalking and killing it is still a chilling experience. Former Disney star Ross Lynch is cast perfectly as Dahmer , generating a familiar unease you can probably identify in at least one or two individuals you’ve crossed paths with in your life. That’s what makes this movie work so well, everything is familiar, so familiar that you can imagine yourself sitting in class a few rows over as he “spazzes out” or in later scenes reeks of booze. ‘My Friend Dahmer’ gets the point across that this could (and did) happen anywhere, with anyone. All it takes is the right combination of events to push someone over that edge.
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