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My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/10/2018
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/18/2018
When we encounter something dark and disturbing, our natural instinct is to turn away. However, there are also incidents where the behavior exhibited by the individuals involved is so different from everyday life that we want to examine it more. Why? It's most likely due to the fact that even they were are repulsed by the behavior, we have an innate curiosity to try and understand why the person did what they did. This is especially true with serial killers and this is why these criminals have been the subjects of many movies. Let's once again attempt to delve into the mind of a murderer in My Friend Dahmer.
It's the mid-1970s and Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is a high school student who blends into the crowd. There's nothing overtly interesting about his clothing or demeanor, save for the fact that he's quiet. However, things are very turbulent at home, as his parents, Joyce (Anne Heche) and Lionel (Dallas Roberts), are constantly fighting. (And, we learn that Joyce has spent time at an inpatient psychiatric facility.) Jeffrey spends his time after school picking up roadkill and dissolving the animals in acid (which he got from his father). One day, Jeffrey suddenly has a strange outburst in the hallway at school. This is observed by John "Derf" Backderf (Alex Wolff), who thinks that it's hysterical and sees Dahmer as an anarchist. Dert attempts to befriend Jeffrey, who is somewhat responsive, but Derf has no idea of the violent urges which are welling up in his new acquaintance.
Jeffrey Dahmer was apprehended in 1991 at the age of 31, suspected of killing at least 17 people, and he became one of America's most notorious serial killers, if not the most notorious. The interest in his story came not only from the fact that he was a multiple murderer, but also because of what he did to his victims, such as attempting to preserve their skeletons. Given this infamy, Dahmer has been the subject of many movies and television specials, most of which do take the time to focus on his teen years and what his home-life was like. The thing which makes My Friend Dahmer different is that it's based on the graphic novel of the same name by John Backderf, who was already drawing cartoons of Dahmer long before he became internationally known.
Given the implied personal insight of Derf's first-hand account, one would expect My Friend Dahmer to be a revelation. The parts which delve into Dahmer's interactions with his peers do feel new. I don't consider myself to be a serial killer expert, but I've seen several pieces on Dahmer and I don't recall ever having seen anything about how he would "spaz out" to impress his new friends and to shock strangers. I also had no idea that he went to the prom. So, there is some new information here.
Unfortunately, these tidbits are mired down in a movie which struggles to find its purpose or direction. Director Marc Meyers has penned the adaptation of Derf's graphic novel, but he bites off more than he can chew here. In addition to Dahmer's high school life, which should be the focus of the story, he brings in Dahmer's home life as well, which is important to an extent, as well as scenes which focus on Derf and his other friends. The result is a movie which fluctuates in tone and lacks the emotional intensity which one would expect from a movie about a multiple murderer. The pace is way too slow and the 107-minute running time feels much, much longer.
There's also a question of the movie's goals and the audiences expectations. Don't come here expecting a graphic horror movie, because that's not what My Friend Dahmer is. It's goal is to explore Dahmer's life as a teen, which it does. But, the film's other implied intent is to show us how a killer was created. This may also disappoint viewers. Again, we learn that Jeffrey like to experiment on animals, much as he would later experiment on people. But, the movie also clearly implies that his parents' divorce weighed heavily on him and effected his personality. Is there any truth to that theory? I don't know, but I doubt that many will watch the movie and not come away with the same impression. But, what was he like before this particular story started? Were there ever happy times in the Dahmer household? We're not told.
If nothing else, the high point of My Friend Dahmer is the performance of Ross Lynch in the title role. Best known for his work in Disney Channel TV shows and movies, as well as being in the band R5 with his siblings, Lynch doesn't seem like the obvious choice for a role like this. But, he essays this part well, making the isolation and confusion feel real. Likewise, Alex Wolff is good in his role, showing the confusion over Dahmer's behavior. If only the film's tone and subject matter could have kept up with them. My Friend Dahmer will be required viewing for serial killer completists, but be prepared for the movie's slow pace.
My Friend Dahmer certainly nails the 70s fashions on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of FilmRise. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The film has been shot in a very natural style, which lends to a crisp image and nice depth. The Disc carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 448 kbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. It's disappointing to get DVD sound on a Blu-ray Disc, but being a docudrama, we don't expect much dynamic audio here. The actors are always audible and we get some mild surround and stereo effects from the high school hallways.
The My Friend Dahmer Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Interview with Ross Lynch" (3 minutes) allows the actor to address his approach to the material and the character. The other extras are "Behind-the-Scenes Slide Show" and a THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long