My Friend Dahmer is based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Derf Backderf, who had been a high school friend of the future serial killer. It’s one of those films where you know where it’s going—it ends as Dahmer drives off with his first victim—but it tells Dahmer’s childhood story. He was growing up as a self-hating gay teenager who hit the bottle at an early age. Often intoxicated at school and saying it was his ‘medicine,’ he was also hiding secrets already. He was killing and dissecting animals in secret, and although his parents saw some hints of what he was up to, obviously no one had any idea of what would happen next. His mother (played in the film by Anne Heche) was mentally ill herself, which didn’t help.
It’s not an amazing film, but it’s not bad either. Ross Lynch, who was a Disney Channel child actor, plays Dahmer (always a fun trajectory). It’s a coming of age film where instead of positive development you see the opposite. What the film does well is that that it isn’t serial killer porn, without any emphasis on his sick fantasies or acts. The focus is on how someone who just seemed to be a weird kid became someone who committed horrific acts. The piece is well acted, and although it was done on a small budget, it presents a good sense of the time and place when the story happened.
At school, Dahmer was pretending to have seizures and physical impairments, which he used to try to be the class clown. This attracted Backderf and others to pay him some attention. Backderf was the punk kid who is into making comic books, and he and his friends tried to be friendly toward the troubled youth who sometimes made everyone laugh. However, they drifted apart from Dahmer as he became more into his own sick obsessions. One of the more interesting wrinkles is that the high school group encouraged Dahmer to act up more and more—no one can say whether his getting attention as the local ‘freak’ could have had an impact on what happened next. The tone is fairly sympathetic, in the sense that no one can know what drove him. His parents divorced as he was finishing high school, and this, along with his mother’s ongoing difficulties and his dad’s somewhat bullying attitude, may have something to do with his finally cracking.
The graphic novel was something that the author had thought about for a couple of decades, having started some work on it not long after Dahmer’s murder by a fellow inmate in prison, It was eventually published in 2012, and may have helped the author deal with his horror over the events. The last time he saw Dahmer, the situation seemed sketchy and he later wondered whether he might have been in danger and had a lucky escape.
The disc doesn’t include any extras. A commentary or interview with the director or author would have been a nice addition.