“Well, we eat our mistakes.” Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother says when she learns she’s under-cooked the chicken. An impressively subtle line which essentially foreshadows her son’s future of murder and cannibalism. Written and directed by Marc Meyers, My Friend Dahmer follows the young life of the prolific serial killer, as he navigates his way through high school. Based on the graphic novel biography of the same name by John ‘Derf’ Backderf, played by Hereditary’s Alex Wolff, the film attempts to provide a quiet insight into his home life and relationships in the months before he commits his first murder.
The opening scene is taken directly from that of the graphic novel, in which Dahmer is walking home from school and comes across some roadkill – which he is often hoping to find – and bumps into some kids from school. They don’t believe him when he says he’s going to dissolve it in acid, so he takes them to his shed to prove it. Putting dead animals into jars of (highly diluted) acid is about as gruesome as My Friend Dahmer gets; this is not a serial killer film, it’s a character study drama that happens to follow a serial killer.
Dahmer, as a teen, did suffer from a dysfunctional family home. His parents divorced in the months prior to his first atrocity, and his mother (played by Anne Heche) didn’t seem at all remorseful in leaving him behind with his dad and taking his little brother. After we’re shown his grisly hobbies, his dad implores him to join more clubs and do more ‘normal’ things, and he’s always met with “But I’m in the school band!”
In a desperate bid for attention, he fakes a seizure in school, a very mocking one; throwing up his arms, running at students making strange noises, before he drops to the ground and rolls around. A few of his classmates, including Backderf who penned the novel, find this so hilarious that they invite him to join them at lunch. They soon become the best of pals – asking him in classes, on the street, and in the mall to fake more seizures for kicks. Dahmer is so eager to please that they inevitably begin to find him a bit weird.
Disney star, Ross Lynch, embodies the infamous killer as though stepping into his skin like a glove. Grappling awkwardly with his own sexuality as he leers down the always-empty road by his home, in the hopes of seeing the handsome local doctor jog by. One thing that’s not quite clear is if they’re trying to say it could have been prevented. It’s a quiet exploration of a young man’s desires, but could also be taken as the accusation of a society that failed Dahmer. Could things have been different had his family not neglected him during the divorce, had his ‘friends’ not laughed at him as he cascaded down the halls doing their bidding? My Friend Dahmer is far more interesting than it is engaging; a slow-paced examination of a young man on the edge of something sinister, that brings two captivating performances in Ross Lynch and Alex Wolff.
by Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian who will be studying film at Bath School of Art & Design from September 2018. Hobbies include theatre, museums and waiting for Charles Xavier to show up and tell her she’s the world’s most powerful mutant. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @millicentonfilm