My Friend Dahmer
Stars: Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Dallas Roberts, Anne Heche, Vincent Kartheiser
Despite the potentially lurid and exploitative sounding subject matter, this portrait of the high school days of serial killer-to-be Jeffrey Dahmer, adapted from John Backderf’s graphic novel, is a serious and compassionate work. When we first encounter the dead-eyed seventeen-year-old Dahmer (Lynch) he seems just another bullied loner. His wildly erratic mother Joyce (Heche) has just returned from a mental institution; his dad Lionel (Roberts) unable to cope with his wife’s behaviour, has moved out. Jeffrey takes refuge in the family shed where one of his solitary activities is dissolving roadkill in vats of acid. He also harbours repressed feelings toward a handsome young jogger (Kartheiser) he sees regularly in the neighbourhood. His habit of ‘spazzing out’ (feigning a fit on the floor with his tongue lolling out) at school attracts the attention of a trio of mildly nerdy friends, led by nascent cartoonist Derf (Wolff). They adopt Dahmer as a mascot and egg him on to ever more outrageous stunts. But this semi-acceptance only affords Jeffrey a temporary reprieve. The picture boasts a vivid recreation of the 78-79 Ohio milieu, as post-60s malaise was giving way to Reaganite rampant individualism. Former Disney star Lynch turns in an admirably self-contained performance as the repressed young man fighting a losing battle with his demons, and writer-director Meyers affords the supporting characters an equal degree of nuance. The end result is compelling, darkly funny (but never crass), and at times, almost unbearably sad. It would be a remarkably bold move at any time to invite empathy for Dahmer, the misfit who became a monster, but in this quick to condemn, social media-driven climate, it feels revolutionary.