Jeffrey Dahmer, along with Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, is at the top of the ‘serial-killer-everyone-knows’ list, and for good reason. The man was a ruthless sociopath who drilled holes into his victims’ head to create a sex-zombie, cannibalized some of them and, worst of all, was a relatively normal individual in society. The allure of the serial killer is how they not only escape justice but escape scrutiny from everyday people like you and me.
Biographic films about real life serial killers are a mixed bunch. They are really better off in genera as inspirations for fictional psychos. It’s hard to make a film where the protagonist is someone who killed real people. The film makers have to walk a very fine line of showing the monster, while also making him sympathetic, but not too sympathetic. In his 2002’s Dahmer, director and writer David Jacobson tries and mostly succeeds to do this with Jeffrey Dahmer.
The film stars Jeremy Renner as the cannibal. Renner was a relatively unknown actor then, but has since been nominated for two Oscars and, of course, has been in Hawkeye in those Marvel films. Renner might seem an odd choice at first, especially if your image of Dahmer is from his mustache phase, but Renner is actually perfect for the role. More handsome, sure, but he has the same droopy eyes that makes it difficult to pinpoint what the person is thinking.
Renner portrays Dahmer as he was. A man who faked being normal for the people around him. A desperately lonely man who is always uncomfortable in his own skin. A man that can take a drill to somebody’s head. It’s uncomfortable to watch him, and that’s the idea.
Along with Renner, we have Bruce Davison as Dahmer’s dad, somebody who knows there is something a bit ‘off’ with his son. Artel Great is Rodney, a man Dahmer ‘befriends’ with intent to drug, rape, lobotomize, kill, eat—not necessarily in that order. Both are great.
The film is grainy and dark and most every scene is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. It makes your stomach curl, and that’s how it should be. Killer like Dahmer are real people, and their victims were real people. There is nothing romantic or charming about a serial killer. Watching them shouldn’t be an uplifting experience, and thus, “Dahmer” is a success.