Fantasia 2017: Devouring My Friend Dahmer

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MY FRIEND DAHMER (2017) Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer: Graphic novel adaptation recently played at the Fantasia Film Festival

I’m currently sitting in the D. B. Clarke Theatre in Montreal at the 2017 Fantasia Film Festival patiently awaiting My Friend Dahmer to start. This is the Canadian/International premiere and I have never been more excited to watch a movie about a real-life monster. I was made aware of this movie when they announced it over a year ago, and that it was set to star Ross Lynch, a Disney Channel star from the hit show Austin and Ally. I will admit, I know this show. My niece, whenever I babysat her, this is what she wanted to watch. I remember seeing this bright-eyed young man with his bleached blonde and fairly good singing voice and I didn’t think much about him. He was another faceless mouseketeer to me.  But a Disney Channel star turned misunderstood serial killer? Yes please…

My Friend Dahmer is based on the graphic novel written by Derf Backderf and tells the tale of his friend Jeff. A shy, loner teen who developed a bad a drinking habit in his senior year of high school. We all know what Dahmer became in 1978 with his first murder, but learning about his life leading up to the murders was by far the most fascinating part of any Dahmer story out there.

We open with Jeff Dahmer (Lynch) on the bus to school, staring at a jogger as he ran passed, someone he would soon become obsessed with. He doesn’t have friends and tries to focus his time on school work and his hobby of dissecting roadkill in his lab. When he realizes that impersonating handicap people got him laughs and a few smiles, he kept it up and eventually made himself some friends including Derf (Alex Wolff). They became their own band of merry pranksters and brought Dahmer out of his shell. This got me. He had friends. He was cute. Sure he was weird, but he was also way more interesting than half the kids in this school (or any school, I think it might have to do with his lack of empathy, but who knows).

His home life was centered around his pill-popping mother, Joyce Dahmer (Anne Heche), who was recently released from the mental institution. His father, Lionel Dahmer (Dallas Roberts), who is trying to push his own beliefs on Jeffrey to become the man he wished he could’ve been. He goes as far as to destroy his hut and honestly, what he was doing in there was weird, but you can just see how it affected Jeff in the long run. He stopped having a place that was his own and no one bothered him. As the movie continues so does Jeff’s fall deeper into himself and losing his sense of what is right and wrong. He becomes an alcoholic and regressed back into his own mind. It slowly grows and transforms into something more horrifying as he begins to kill larger animals and eventually starts hunting the most dangerous game of all. People. For those of you who didn’t get my reference. During the Q and A, director Marc Meyers explained his choice to not show him actually killing any animals (apart from one fish in a very troubling scene by the river) by stating “the violence is in your mind by me not showing it,” which played off beautifully.

It’s weird to call a film about Jeffrey Dahmer erotic, but this movie was just that. It was erotic and it was dark and it leaves with you an uneasy feeling. His parents never hugged him, he had friends but was never really close with them. The only person who ever touched him in this whole film was the doctor (aka the jogger) that he had feelings towards. He lied about being sick just so he could get a physical from him. He wanted to love and be loved but didn’t understand how he could achieve that. Until he found his own way later in life, one that would take the lives of 17 men. It’s heartbreaking and gripping.

The choice to use Ross Lynch, was inspired. Meyers discussed how, after seeing a number of people, they narrowed it down to about 25 individuals who (sort of) looked like Dahmer, if they had the glasses on. However, Lynch knocked it out of the park with his emotionless stare and dead eyes (perfect for a Disney star). “I watched his Disney show and thought THIS guy is Dahmer!” Meyers explained to the audience, a majority of which chuckled at this statement.

In terms of keeping the film as authentic and as real as possible, they managed to film in Dahmer’s childhood home. Yes, his real home where the very first murder took place in 1978. While writing the first draft of the movie with Backderf, they took a trip to visit some of the original locations and found not only his home but also the remains of the Dahmer’s hut in the back yard. They even went as far as to contact the local radio stations to find out what music was playing at that time in history. All of this adding to the true honesty of this movie.

MAJOR Spoiler Alert Below!!!

In the closing scene of the film, Derf is leaving Jeffrey’s home. As he leaves, trying to stay calm and cool even though you can tell something had unsettled him, Jeffrey grabs a bat about to hit him. However, he doesn’t, it is still a powerful scene. This scene was not originally in the book and was made for this movie. The true story of the ending scene was that, Mike, another friend of theirs, saw Jeffrey walking alone along the side of the road and gave him a ride home where they proceeded to share a beer together. Not knowing that he had just committed his first murder and a body of a young man was in the trunk of Dahmer’s car. It wasn’t until years later that this was discovered when they began to trace his timeline.

My Friend Dahmer is an intense deliberately pace film that really delves into the origin stories of one of the most brutal serial killers of the 20th century. It isn’t a horror movie per se but a movie that has terrifying suspense in it because in the end you know how this story truly climaxes. It’s a coming-of-age story in the darkest sense. If you get the opportunity to see it, take it.

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