Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer mostly active in the late 80s and early 90s before he got caught. He killed no less than 17 people, all men, most of the gay as Dahmer himself was too, and performed necrophilia and cannibalism. Quite the character one could base a tense and grueling movie on. Jeffrey Dahmer’s story is kind of like Brokeback Slaughter if you think of it. Yet, this movie, simply titled Dahmer, is pretty boring as it tries to be a character study of Dahmer but fails to engage and like other movies about serial killers requires the viewers to have knowledge on forehand about the character because not everything was explained really clear. Where movies about fictional killers reveal too much about the killer, Dahmer actually tells us too little.
This movie deals with three murders by Dahmer. Quite confusingly they are not chronologically presented as the movie switches back and forth in time, all the time, especially between his first kill and his failed last attempt.
Now it takes some while before the movie starts to get on a roll as the direction isn’t really spectacular and consist of mostly still camera shots while there hardly any music at all other than some pop tunes. That worked in Henry, Portrait of a serial killer because that movie was more raw and felt like a documentary. Henry also had a much better pacing and better written characters.
But in Dahmer it makes the picture kind of boring. Even though he does some bizarre things like drilling into the skull of an unconscious boy it never is really captivating to watch. Part of that is because we never get to know really much about Dahmer other than a part of his descent into serial killer territory. For instance: Dahmer mutilated dead animals during puberty (Something shown in the remake of Halloween by Rob Zombie) but that is only glimpsed upon by having him walking through the forest smashing a baseball bat against trees and coming past skull of a dog on a stick. No further explanation was given so I assumed it was already there, but the scene probably tried to tell me it was Dahmer who did that. It failed.
The movie never really touches upon the cannibalism and keeps the necrophilia rather vague. So I had the idea of this being a rather incomplete movie. If you’re going to take a subject with such a gruesome story, I think it would be best not to leave out the gruesome parts.
I think the movie would have benefited from a voice-over. A faster pace, maybe covering a murder or two/three more and some scenes on how the police were picking this up as there were gay men being slaughtered in a vast tempo. Was there never any news coverage about these missing persons at the time?
Reading about Dahmer on Wikipedia, makes the movie somewhat more clear to me and reading about the crimes and remembering how I saw them covered make the movie in memory more enjoyable than it was while actually watching it.
The most redeemable aspect of the movie was the performances by Jeremy Renner and Artel Great. renner carries the movie and creates a 3-dimensional Dahmer, while Great is filled with energy as the one that got away. The always reliable Bruce Davison is Jeffrey’s dad Lionel. He has only a couple of scenes but brings a great presence to it. He might not be world’s greatest dad, but wasn’t the one-dimensional asshole serial killer dads mostly are.
I wonder if it’s possible to create a movie with a better script and production values about Jeffrey Dahmer. Then again the homosexual theme and gruesomeness of the murders are not likely to draw masses to the theaters.