My Friend Dahmer
Adapted from the graphic novel based on the stories and research collected by classmate Derf Backderf, My Friend Dahmer chronicles the late high school years of the now infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. The film focuses on his junior and senior years, a period when his family life was crumbling under the pressure of his parents’ divorce, he was struggling with his sexuality and when the introverted school boy was growing more depraved in his obsessions.
Former Disney star Ross Lynch has made a bold move in taking on this project and carries the movie on awkward shoulders. His well-built frame transforms into the painfully shy, socially inept Dahmer, inviting sympathy for a lonely kid trying to find any way to fit in and gain attention from both his school friends and his family. Lynch balances this with a sense of malice, giving a glimpse of the violence that was ever present within the killer and sex offender. Being able to find this balance is an incredible feat, given what we know Dahmer was later capable of, and the actor does this well, bringing a subtle discomfort to the role.
The late 70s setting is authentic, which can be difficult to capture without imposing rose-tinted nostalgia upon it. In many ways, the film is similar to any other high school movie, with different cliques and everyone just trying to survive and be normal. It jumps in and out of moments, showcasing brief glimpses of episodes that define aspects of Dahmer’s character. This emphasises a fractured and lonely life, where even those who spend every day with him know him only in fragments.
My Friend Dahmer does well to hint at its protagonist’s obsessions without being too leading or inferring too much. The protagonist’s sexuality is alluded to but never overtly explored, and this suggests that he himself has not entirely figured it out – it is something bubbling inside him that he dissociates himself from, as he separates himself from another student and former friend who faces homophobic bullying from his peers. Dahmer’s fascination with the sole black student in his class could possibly reflect the common profile of many of his future victims. There are many intimations that could lead to explanations for his future actions, yet the film is careful not to make any excuses for his behaviour; it is simply painting a picture that gives some insight into how easy it is for a damaged person to slip through the cracks of society.
My Friend Dahmer is released nationwide on 1st June 2018.
Watch the trailer for My Friend Dahmer here: