My Friend Dahmer takes us back to the beginning, or in a way, before the beginning. Before Jeffrey Dahmer became the terrifying serial killer known the world over. Director and writer Marc Meyers, loosely adapting from a graphic novel, has ultimately made Dahmer: The High School Years.
And what a good decision that has turned out to be. Ross Lynch is absolutely stunning and unrecognizable as the young Dahmer. The former Disney kid takes the step to respected actor in a much shorter time than some of his Mouse House ex-colleagues by completely stealing the spotlight here. He’s unsettling, and always a little off. His glasses slightly askew, his eyes menacing at times but also innocent.
Lynch, with the direction of Meyers, mostly succeeds in making the young Dahmer a sympathetic character, which on paper should obviously be nigh-on impossible. This is partly due to the circumstances of Dahmer’s childhood. The movie delves into the nature vs nurture debate without beating the audience over the head with it. Dahmer’s home life is one of bickering distant parents, and his school life is troublesome to say the least. Meyers does a great job of leaving enough unsaid. And that is where Lynch’s wonderful acting comes into play, subtly carrying the movie along.
Dahmer, a loner who spends his spare time dissolving roadkill in acid, is invited into a friendship group, who make their own Dahmer Fan Club after he acts out in class. This relationship is a precarious one, as it flits between seemingly genuine friendship and what appears to be the exploitation and possibly even mental abuse of the young Dahmer. The kids who make up the Fan Club are no monsters though, and the young actors do a great job of making them feel like real flawed teenagers.
This is a dramatic movie not a slasher, and instead of all out gore, Meyers opts wisely for a bubbling tension. The suspense pervades throughout the film, sinisterly lingering in every scene. There are so many threads that snake in and out of the movie, left ominously open, with Dahmer always seemingly on the edge of taking that next, crucial step over the line. It becomes a question of what will be the moment that tips him over the edge. Is it the male doctor who Dahmer watches from the bushes as he goes on his weekly jog? Or perhaps the unloving parents? Or a cruel trick by his Fan Club? Meyers has such fun with this, building the tension of what may happen and to whom over the course of the movie.
Meyers said in a Q&A at the London Film Festival that the opening and closing shot were set in stone from the beginning, and they are two great bookends for this story. It begins and ends at the perfect moments, and what happens in between is pretty great too. This is therefore a definite must-see for those interested in the psychology of one of the most notorious serial killers.