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Film Review: My Friend Dahmer @ Leeds International Film Festival 2017


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High School graduation is an incredibly pivotal moment for any teenager. It's the beginning of the rest of your life, as many people say. Some go on to be doctors and engineers, while others might go into business or the arts. Jeffrey Dahmer, on the other hand, became one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.

The root causes of Dahmer's shocking descent into depravity, which resulted in the deaths of seventeen young men over a period of thirteen years, have long been theorised and deliberated through a variety of mediums, albeit, usually taking a sharp focus on his crimes. In contrast, with My Friend Dahmer, Marc Meyers' cordially captures, with a caustic wit, an intimately sincere portrayal of the disturbed adolescence that Jeffrey reticently endured.

Adapted from cartoonist John 'Derf' Backderf's best-selling graphic novel of the same name, the film intricately delves into the enticing nature of Dahmer's intrepid disruptions of social norms, in tandem with the progressively potent habitual tendencies that would eventually mutate into a lifestyle of which, he himself retrospectively insinuated, he had little control. 

For those at all familiar with Dahmer's early life, the contents of the film's opening exchanges will certainly not come as a surprise. His obsession with the plainly literal 'inner self' spawned from a penchant for collecting and experimenting with whatever roadkill he might come across during his walks home from school. By the time we join him, during his senior year at Revere High School, he has already amassed an ample menagerie of both dissolving and preserved fauna. His very own 'pet cemetery' as his father Lionel terms it. 

One of the most inexplicably affecting moments in Marc Meyers' intimately unsettling biopic, occurs during an oddly amusing scene in which the eponymous lead and his gleeful contingent delight in a chance meeting with the Vice President at the time, Walter Mondale, while on a field trip to the US capital. In consummate fashion, Mondale inquires as to what the boys intend to do after they graduate. To which Jeffrey, after a second or two of contemplation, simply replies "Biology".

An aspiration which ordinarily would seem equally as commonplace as those of his colleagues. However, coupled with the knowledge of what his imminent future would entail, it instead, exerts the same astutely allegorical essence of one of the film's most mundanely chilling breaths of dialogue. An instance so memorable in its calmly collected nature, I feel I'd be doing it a disservice in quoting it forthrightly. It's within these cleverly interspersed flashes of the latter Dahmer, that many of My Friend Dahmer's most discerning triumphs lie.

Meyers and Lynch put forward an interpretation of Dahmer that we - as the captivated onlookers - are somewhat surprisingly able to empathise with, on an uncomfortably personal level. Aided by a script so carefully charged with dramatic irony, it becomes genuinely difficult to imagine how someone so seemingly subservient could eventually leave behind a criminal legacy so unsparingly steeped in depravity.

Furthermore, when you take into account that this is Ross Lynch's first starring role away from the clutches of his Disney Channel roots, the erudite assuredness with which he tackles such an insurmountably complex character like Dahmer, is quite a feat in itself. However, when you add to the mix, the fact that he is essentially embodying a historical account of the adolescence endured by a real person, it becomes a whole lot more impressive.

Every facet of Meyers' intimately unsettling biopic exudes a certain foreboding sense of underhanded normality. It takes more than a substantial degree of contemplation and candour to tempestuously humanise someone of Dahmer's infamy, whilst never taking more than a brief stroll away from the sheer heinousness of his urges. A feat that My Friend Dahmer handles with great grace and virtuous vigour.      

My Friend Dahmer screened as part of the 2017 Leeds International Film Festival. Further details can be found here.

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