Though My Friend Dahmer is about infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, its focus is not on the murders, rapes, necrophilia and cannibalism he committed between 1978 until his capture in 1991. This movie — directed by Marc Meyers and based on the graphic novel by Dahmer’s high school friend Derf Backderf — is focused on the killer’s high school years, when he became obsessed with dissecting road kill and later upgraded to household pets. For the squeamish, no killings, be it animal or human happen onscreen, but there is a distant, out of focus shot of a mutilated dog’s body. Meyers is not interested in visceral shock. He’s more interested in presenting the socially disturbing qualities of a killer in the making. What we see instead is Dahmer (played by an impressive Ross Lynch) handling roadkill with an odd social disconnect.
The filmmakers are not interested in exploiting this man’s pre-homicidal tendencies as much as revealing the background that might have encouraged them out of a sort of apathy. From parents clueless about raising children to schoolmates who could never relate and teachers who never noticed, high school Dahmer becomes an object of pathos. Of course, Meyers never allows the audience off the hook, either. He uses extremely dark humor throughout the film and a vibrant color palette to represent the 1970s heightened in a manner out of a Wes Anderson movie. This is fantasia based on a horrific reality.
If there is one part of the movie that drags it’s ironically when Dahmer turns a true antisocial corner into the psychopathic tendencies of no return. The film loses some of its earlier verve, as the little bit of humanity that was once an awkward high school kid desperately looking to fit in with self-deprecating, sad shenanigans slips away.
Once the boy is gone, there’s little to latch on to. However, this also speaks to the careful line walked during the first three-quarters of the movie. With Lynch giving a powerful performance alongside a supporting cast that also includes an impressive Anne Heche as his distant, foul-mouthed, drug-abusing mother, there is still a lot that will hold the brave viewer’s attention.
My Friend Dahmer runs 107 minutes and is rated R. It opens in our Miami area exclusively on Friday, Nov. 10 at MDC’s Tower Theater. For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit the movie’s official website. This is an extended review for a movie I first caught as a guest at Miami Film Festival GEMS 2017, last month (Miami Film Festival GEMS 2017 premieres 5 films coming soon).