Glasgow Film Festival Review: ‘My Friend Dahmer’

Jeffrey Dahmer was one of America’s most notorious serial killers. This film, adapted from the graphic novel by classmate John ‘Derf’ Backderf, retells Dahmer’s high school life from when he was a 17 year old. His erratic, unpredictable behaviour is the central focus of the movie. His relationship with his parents and the students in his class are established. We also see his morbid fascination form as he dissects dead animals.

Ross Lynch‘s performance of Dahmer is unique. His body language and facial expression match the social awkwardness of the high school scenes. The scenarios used to develop the character study around Dahmer are perceptive. The rest of the characters though are presented with an uncertainty. With the exception of Dahmer and Backderf (Alex Wolff) there’s very little in the way of characterisation. The parents are painted in a melodramatic light. It is clear that mother Joyce Dahmer (Anne Heche) ignores her husband and son, yet this is overstated by Heche. The performance seems overly sentimental.

One of the problems of this adaptation from the graphic novel is that the narrative form isn’t particularly cinematic. It is clear that writer director Marc Meyers wanted to adapt from the original as closely as possible to bring a story to the screen that represents the truth. However, there is nothing that feels like an act nor a plot point. ‘My Friend Dahmer‘ is faithful to the book, but what works in a graphic novel won’t necessarily translate well to screen. This doesn’t really relate to the visuals but does affect the complete narrative thread of the film.

Visually, there are some interesting ideas played out. In the very first scene of the film, Dahmer looks out from the school bus at the doctor character jogging on the roadside. He later stalks this jogger repeatedly, and in one scene Dahmer is shown hiding in the trees waiting for him to pass. As the character jogs down the remote road we slow right down to slow motion. The camera shows the jogger in the middle of the frame, before a close-up of his trainers to show distance as he passes. The sound design is ominous, the score uses dull unusual noise. We hear the jogger’s steps loudly, and some of Dahmer’s breathing. This is the kind of uneasy state the film maintains.

I think that before the film begins most of the audience will know that Jeffrey Dahmer was a murderer, and at the end of the film the text states that in 1991 Dahmer was arrested and admitted to murdering seventeen people. The film has some interesting insight into his psyche as a teenager, but lacks complexity or variation seen elsewhere in narrative cinema.

Zach Roddis | [rating=3]

Biography, Drama | USA, 2017 | 15 | Glasgow Film Festival | Dir.Marc Meyers | Alex Wolff, Ross Lynch, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Vincent Kartheiser