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My Friend Dahmer review - Ross Lynch shines in an otherwise dull narrative

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Verdict: Viewers expecting a suspense-filled thrill ride will leave disappointed; for lovers of a (very) slow pace only.

Set in the late 1980s, My Friend Dahmer observes the personal life of who would come to be known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, in the months prior to his first killing.

Marc Meyer’s new biopic is not the suspense-filled thriller many viewers may expect, but it does offer an interesting look into the headspace of Jeffrey Dahmer in his formative years. The film can be best appreciated as just that: an observation of a deeply troubled, true-life character.

Each scene works in revealing an aspect of Dahmer’s life that could be deemed either a trigger for his sociopathic manner or a result of it, creating a picture of the boy behind the killer, rather than merely portraying the evil that modern society know of him – the film presents a Dahmer uninfluenced by his subsequent killings, only focusing on the here and now (or, more aptly put, then and there).

Technically speaking, My Friend Dahmer is slick in its cinematography and uses camera movement to its advantage, emphasising Dahmer’s instability and social ostracization effectively through its visuals.  The film is actually at its finest when it projects Dahmer’s mind onto the screen creatively and blurs the lines between his reality and fantasy. This is where the film’s potential lay: in its creative ability to present an infamous killer in a different light.

However, whether the film fulfilled this potential is questionable. Whilst the film offers a new insight into the life of Dahmer and the serial killer genre as a whole, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of narrative and engagement.

The film’s attempt at a powerful character study is ultimately dampened by a bland story. It simultaneously focuses on everything and nothing; something that only works in undermining the rest of the film’s efforts in constructing a visual experience of Dahmer’s warped mind.

Despite the broad scope of his life the film covers – including his troubled home life, school life and his fixation with anatomy – the film progresses at a slow and wearing pace. It teasingly hints at where Dahmer’s actions are headed but does so inexplicitly, which could be deemed a blessing and a curse.

Whilst it doesn’t trivialise itself with overt foreshadowing, it also doesn’t create that suspense or tension needed to engage viewers with the more calculated pace it was clearly aiming for. The film would have benefitted from more build in the narrative, a coherent progression.

This issue lies mainly in the film’s perspective. Exactly whose viewpoint the film is being told from is unclear. Based on the graphic novel by Derf Backderf, the film could be from his angle, yet scenes of Dahmer’s intimate home life and mental fantasies create a level of haziness surrounding the film’s point-of-view and, in turn, undermine the truth behind the character study being constructed.

Where issues of narrative may weaken the film, the performances more than makes up for it. My Friend Dahmer may not see big screen thrills, but it does see thrilling performances from a refreshingly new set of faces. Ross Lynch, previously of Disney Channel and R5 fame, is the driving force of the film, really showing his acting abilities as the young Jeffrey Dahmer. From the way he speaks to the way he carries himself, Lynch captures the serial killer effortlessly, giving a really unnerving performance.

Likewise, Alex Wolff, who also started on the small screen, is proving himself to be a rising star and gives a perfectly balanced performance – not too much, not too little. The pair have a unique on-screen chemistry as a result of their characters’ complex relationship, each enforcing their onscreen presence amongst the sea of other talented young actors found in the film.

Despite these impressive performances and the film’s efforts in its visual style, My Friend Dahmer lacks the suspense and drive required from the calculated character sketch it tries to be. Many scenes are worth watching individually but their cohesion leaves a lot to be desired.

My Friend Dahmer is out in cinemas now, distributed by Altitude. 

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