TWO AND A HALF STARS Before Jeff Dahmer was a serial killer, he was a high-school kid.
Ross Lynch, Anne Heche
If one hundred indie film writers sat with one one hundred typewriters to tap out the ultimate critic-baiting indie film, this is what you’d end up with. From the self-conscious quirk to the awful future the narrative walks toward, every step of the way MY FRIEND DAHMER feels like it has been focus-grouped for ultimate satisfaction, indie-style.
Here is the back-story of Jeff Dahmer, an ill-fitting high-school kid who went on to earn notoriety as one of America’s most offensive serial killers. But that’s in the future. MY FRIEND DAHMER keeps a steady gaze on an awkward teenager who, by all accounts, was no more awkward than many of his fellow students. Directed by Marc Myers and co-written with John Backderf from his own book (Backderf was one of the awkward students), MY FRIEND DAHMER has unique insights into what made the boy tick.
Not that they made their way to the movie. As is so often the case, no one is more surprised by their actions than those who seem to know the perpetrator best. Consequently the film paints a picture of a boy who wanted to fit in but didn’t know how. A boy with a fondness for pickling road kill (he liked to ‘see what’s inside’), a boy whose mother suffered from mental illness that led to divorce. So far so nothing desperately out of the ordinary.
And that’s about where the film sits. With little in the way of plot (Dahmer’s offences were yet to happen), Myer’s film relies heavily on creating an atmosphere in which we’re led to join the dots and fill in the future. It’s what he doesn’t show you that makes the film compelling - up to a point.
Ross Lynch’s mouth-breathing performance as Dahmer, if slightly affected, is engaging as is the support from fellow students, Anne Heche as the boy’s deeply troubled mother and Myer’s production crew who nail the 70’s suburban setting. Unfortunately, and most critically, is how MY FRIEND DAHMER fails to explain Jeff’s tolerance for his unpleasant friends, his fascination for killing, how he justifies his actions nor how that leads him where it does. Consequently he becomes more cipher than character, and these failures ultimately sterilise the film. Atmosphere can only get you so far.