Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: MY FRIEND DAHMER: Deconstructing A Serial Killer By Way Of High School [LA Film Festival 2017]

Ross Lynch My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer Review

My Friend Dahmer (2017) Film Review from the 23rd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by Marc Meyers, starring Ross Lynch, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Wolff, Miles Robbins, Cameron McKendry, Carmen Gangale, Harrison Holzer, Christopher Mele, Tommy Nelson, Dylan Keith Adams, Zachary Davis Brown, Dontez James, and Karin Boesler.

While filmgoers’ flock to movies about vampires and monsters, the closest thing we had to a demon in real life recent memory was probably Jeffrey Dahmer, a vicious serial killer who killed 17 young men before having sex with, eating, and preserving several of their bodies. It’s hard to imagine someone like this ever being normal, but Marc Meyers’ My Friend Dahmer shows how easy it was for those who actually knew him to miss the signs.

Of course, to call the young Dahmer (Ross Lynch) “normal” is a bit of a stretch, as the film goes to great lengths to show. Fond of preserving dead animals in pickle jars and picked on by his classmates, the high school reject makes an unlikely group of friends when he begins acting strangely in what they believe is an attempt to make light of his reputation as the school weirdo. For his part, Lynch shines in a veritable tour de force, completely immersing himself in his role and making it hard to believe that there’s an amiable Disney Channel star behind the dorky glasses and creepy hairdo. The rest of the cast delivers solid performances as well, with Anne Heche bringing Dahmer’s bipolar, pill-popping mother dangerously close to life and Alex Wolff holding his ground as Derf, the National Lampoon t-shirt wearing mischief-maker who invites him into the group’s fold before coming to realize that their newfound friend’s outrageous activities are symptomatic of something far more troubling than simple growing pains.

Anyone expecting to see Lynch go full Dahmer and commit unspeakable depravities is bound to be disappointed: the most heinous act we see the budding serial killer commit is gutting a still-living fish that had the misfortune to be captured by him, but nobody falls prey to him onscreen. This is for the better as the movie is not about Dahmer the cannibalistic sex murderer but Dahmer the socially awkward youth trying to make his way through high school, although it doesn’t shy away from teasing the audience about what is to come as he gets older.

The film’s approach is exemplified by one sequence in which Dahmer secretly observes a jogger (Vincent Kartheiser) who passes by his house every week. As the jogger runs with his back to the camera, it dollies in as if to simulate Dahmer zeroing in on him before he suddenly sprints, causing the camera to halt and watch on as the jogger runs away. We then cut to a shot of a disappointed Dahmer lurking in the trees, groaning in irritation at being denied his first taste of murder. As disappointing as it may be to him, it’s entertaining for viewers who already know about the grisly acts he would go on to commit.

There aren’t many movies about real-life serial killers, and there are even less that try to humanize them to the extent that My Friend Dahmer does. Without trying to coddle, without trying to excuse, Meyers’ makes us realize that even a demon like Dahmer was a boy once and wonder if things could have turned out differently for him.

Rating: 9/10

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About the author

Reggie Peralta

An aspiring writer, longtime film junkie, and former UCLARadio.com disc jockey (where I graduated with a BA in Political Science), I've made the jump from penning book reviews and current events editorials for HonorSociety.org to writing movie and TV news and reviews.

When I'm not working towards my certificate in Radio and Television/Video Production at Fullerton College, I enjoy reading (horror, science fiction, and historical/political nonfiction are particular favorites), participating in my school's TV and theatre clubs, attending movie screenings, plays, concerts, and other events, and trying to come up with pithy things to say on social media. Believe it or not, there are occasions where I find time to write for my own leisure.

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