Fantastic Fest: ‘My Friend Dahmer’ Is An Unexpectedly Human Portrayal Of One Of America’s Most Notorious Killers (FILM REVIEW)

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Going into a screening of My Friend Dahmer at this year’s Fantastic Fest, it was impossible not to wonder why, exactly, a movie like this would get made. The humanization of one of the 20th century’s most notoriously vicious serial killers, which would allow for audiences to become sympathetic to him, seemed like a dicey proposition to say the least.

I wasn’t the only one with that question weighing on my mind, as the first question asked in the Q&A afterwards addressed it directly. But co-writer/director Marc Meyers had a surprisingly convincing and succinct answer — “Why not?”

Having just sat through the film, I was all but inclined to agree with him. This was, after all, the story of a human being, raised by neglecting, self-absorbed parents who was never able to forge a real connection with any of those around him. The closest he gets is when a trio of fellow high-schoolers form ‘The Dahmer Fan Club,’ who laud his public bouts of spazzing out, where he yells, fakes seizures, and generally makes an embarrassing spectacle of himself. All in a desperate attempt to make something — anything — that vaguely resembles a friendship.

Though the film makes no excuses for the kind of person he’d become — barely touching on that part of his life — it does give everyone a sobering chance to reevaluate ‘that one kid’ that every one of us has a memory of going to school with.

It also poses no easy answers, namely because there aren’t any. After all, once his self-proclaimed fan club gets tired of the cheap laughs, they all move on without him, leaving him behind with his perpetual loneliness.

Granted, the film wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without the performance of Ross Lynch, who’s able to make you genuinely feel bad for Dahmer as an alienated teenager, while only giving the slightest glimpse of the monster the world would eventually come to know.

It also painstakingly recreates Dahmer’s childhood, using the real home he grew up in, rebuilding the shack where he dissolved road kill in acid supplied by his father, and based on the graphic novel written by a member of the ‘Dahmer Fan Club.’ These touches of unsettling realism almost dare you to leave the theater wondering what acts of similar teenage cruelty you’d inflicted on those you deemed too uncool to pal around with — purposefully or otherwise.

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