My Friend Dahmer: We need to talk about Jeff
Film that shows unhappy teenager's route to murderous insanity, deals carefully with a deeply disturbing topic
31 May, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Ross Lynch in My Friend Dahmer
MY FRIEND DAHMER
Directed by Marc Meyers
JEFFREY Dahmer murdered 17 men in the 1970s and 1980s, and this film traces the roots of what led him to kill.
Based on the graphic novel by cartoonist John “Derf” Backderf – who had been friends with Dahmer in the 1970s when the pair were teenagers – this biopic carefully deals with a deeply disturbing topic.
Derf features in the film, scribbling away at caricatures and images, and providing a way to illustrate Dahmer’s off- beat relationship with his peer group.
Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is a quiet, unhappy teenager. His father Lionel (Dallas Roberts, superbly cast) is in an unhappy marriage to his mother, Joyce (Anne Heche), who has had a breakdown and been in and out of hospital.
Dahmer is a loner at school, though the film shows how, in his final year, he began to make friends – but the small group of those who admire him do so because he appears to be somewhat different to others, happy to play the jester and cause trouble. It feels an obviously unbalanced relationship, and is one of the many markers in this film that shows the viewer the route to murderous insanity.
There were high school jinks, such as Dahmer sneaking his way into every photo of clubs and societies for the end-of-year high school book, which come over as a rather sad but harmless attempt to gain attention and some notoriety.
There are then less innocent pastimes – Dahmer collects roadkill and then, using acid his chemist father has provided, dissolves the flesh and preserves the whitened bones. He also develops a fascination with a jogger who paces up past his rural home every day – and on discovering he is a friendly GP in Bath, Ohio, the town he lives on the outskirts of, Dahmer craves his attention.
Derf, the film suggests, was nearly Dahmer’s first victim: in a chilling scene towards the end, we see how close he came to being beaten by his friend. Instead, we watch as Dahmer, using his father’s old VW Beetle, drives off with a young man’s excited sense of freedom, of a life ahead of him, of adventures to be had… and picks up a hitchhiker called Steven Hicks.
After getting into Dahmer’s car, Steven was never seen again.
Lynch’s performance – with his shrugged shoulders, his disdainful eye, his lack of any empathy with anyone – is well pitched. There is enough about him that make this feel horribly real, and this story of the road to losing one’s ability to differentiate between right and wrong is downplayed, believable (with dash of Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin) and a hard watch – as it should be.