My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Director: Marc Meyers
Writers: Marc Meyers, John Backderf (based on the novel by)
Starring: Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Vincent Kartheiser
My Friend Dahmer is a collected but remarkably thorough biopic chronicling the months preceding the first murder of Jeffery Dahmer, one of the most depraved and notorious serial killers in America. It is a brilliantly detailed and explorative piece of film with a quietly powerful performance at its helm.
The almost tangible feel of this film is what is immediately apparent. There is a stillness to My Friend Dahmer which sits heavy within the fabric of the film, an almost engineered calmness which is non-threatening and unimposing. The whole film seems to reflect the still, restrained nature of the title character, serving as a suitable vehicle for his chilling story. Music is used only occasionally and briefly, the film instead preferring to lurk in an eerie silence. It isn't rushed, ticking along steadily and purposefully, feeling fully in control throughout but without feeling domineering. The seriousness of this tale is effectively conveyed without feeling too ominous or sinister.
My Friend Dahmer places our title character at the centre of a troubling story, exploring many different aspects of his younger years which may have led to his later crimes. Almost immediately, Dahmer's fascination with dead animals is swiftly established, a fascination which is further examined later on in the film as it transitions towards live animals and beyond. It delicately explores his struggle with his homosexuality and less subtly lays bare the beginnings of his alcohol dependancy. It details his troubled home-life, the instability of his mother and the dissolution of his parents' marriage. It is remarkable how many different themes this film explores simultaneously, efficiently and sufficiently addressing each aspect enough to build a layered and exhaustive understanding of the struggles of young Dahmer. Importantly though, My Friend Dahmer avoids making Dahmer the victim of this story, refusing to put the responsibility of his later crimes onto the shoulders of his past. The film's message appears to be deliberately neutral. It avoids painting the young man as a monster destined to kill from birth, biding his time until his first attack; nor doesn't it serve as an explanation or an excuse for the horrendous acts of violence that he later committed.
In a film where all other characters are largely secondary, Lynch is utterly excellent as Dahmer. His inexperience with such contextually demanding roles is only slightly noticeable - Jeffery Dahmer is a world away from the characters whom Lynch is used to playing - but he fully embraces the challenge and appears to take the role very seriously. He demonstrates a remarkable ability to convey a lot with very little - his character is predominantly expressionless, often only teasing a little motion from his face, particularly during the film's first half. Lynch presents us with a character who remains absent and vacant, often by seeming to stare into nothing, unaware that the rest of the world exists. Even during his more socially inclusive scenes there remains a sense of disconnectedness with others. There is a placidity to his character which mimics the wider feel of the film; not quite predatory in nature, but certainly a precursor to it. Lynch's performance is characterised by a sense of isolation, which keeps Dahmer detached from his peers in a very subtle and implicit sense. Alex Wolff is gifted with perhaps the only other notable character, playing 'Derf', one of the wayward and offbeat teens who serve as Dahmer's 'friends'. His relationship with Dahmer further highlights the disparity between him and his peers, but his involvement does little more that simply form part of the plot as opposed to a distinguishable and meaningful character.
This biopic also cleverly displays Dahmer's isolation from his peers in a more explicit fashion. Every facet of the character's design works to separate him from everyone else in the film. His dress sense, his hair style, his inexplicably large glasses, his very posture; it all works to separate him from everyone else in the film, and explains his misguided attempts to fit in and gain friends. This amount of attention afforded to the character's design, along with the rest of the film's components, visibly demonstrates a keen understanding of the character and how his story would be best told.
My Friend Dahmer is an endlessly detailed biopic with a meticulously controlled climate which perfectly complements the vacant and measured essence of Ross Lynch's sturdy performance. It explores a huge amount without feeling crowded or convoluted, and tells this harrowing account in a sensitive and respectful way.
In one line: My Friend Dahmer is a comprehensive account of Jeffery Dahmer's youth, one with a distinctly placid tone which is reflected within the robust performance of the film's lead.