Review: My Friend Dahmer is chilling portrait of young serial killer

My Friend Dahmer. Photo: Altitude Film

My Friend Dahmer. Photo: Altitude Film - Credit: Altitude Film

Ross Lynch delivers a chilling performance as the teenage Jeffrey Dahmer in this biographical drama written and directed by Marc Meyers, adapted from a graphic novel by John Backderf about the formative years of the serial killer.

My Friend Dahmer. Photo: Altitude Film

My Friend Dahmer. Photo: Altitude Film - Credit: Altitude Film

My Friend Dahmer (15)

***

Jeffrey Dahmer is a kind of US equivalent of Dennis Nilsen, he was a loner who'd lure men back to his house to be raped, strangled and dismembered, and then their body parts preserved.

My Friend Dahmer. Photo: Altitude Film

My Friend Dahmer. Photo: Altitude Film - Credit: Altitude Film

Here we see the young Dahmer at high school, collecting up roadkill, tending his pet cemetery of preserved animal carcasses, obsessing over a jogger on a countryside route and drinking heavily while his parents go through a messy divorce.


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Set in the mid- to late 1970s, the film focuses student Jeffrey (Ross Lynch) as he develops a crush on local physician Dr Matthews (Vincent Kartheiser), who regularly jogs past the Dahmer family home.

Inside those four walls, Jeffrey struggles to connect to his father Lionel (Dallas Roberts), mother Joyce (Anne Heche) and younger brother Dave (Liam Koeth).

My Friend Dahmer. Photo: Altitude Film

My Friend Dahmer. Photo: Altitude Film - Credit: Altitude Film

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The chilling part is not when he is a creepy loner, but when he becomes accepted. After Dahmer pretends to have cerebral palsy and have an epileptic fit, a group of lads, led by Backderf (Alex Wolff) decide that he could be some kind of comic genius and take him into their group.

Through his demeaning Jackass-style antics he gains a measure of acceptance. This view of humour as a containment measure, a way of channelling all society's dark undercurrents is genuinely disturbing.

Lynch's Dahmer has hunched shoulders and dangled lifeless arms, like a shirt on a small hanger. It's a suburban caricature, not played for laughs.

For what it is, it is very well made and impressive, but what is it? I don't think we get any real insight into what made him a killer, or even what made him stand out as a celebrity serial killer. Ultimately it's yet another American high school tale of jocks, bullying and lonely outsiders.

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