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"My Friend Dahmer" paints a humanizing portrait of the notorious serial killer


One-time Disney Channel fixture Ross Lynch ("Austin & Alley") plays high school student Jeffrey Dahmer. (FilmRise)


Blu-ray and DVD; 2017; R, disturbing images, language, teen drug use, drinking and sexual content, and for brief nudity; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra (by default): a brief interview with star Ross Lynch

"MOSTLY WHAT I look for are stories that haven't yet been told. That interests me."

The problem that John "Derf" Backderf ran into was most publishers wouldn't touch "My Friend Dahmer," his 2012 graphic novel about his his high-school friendship with Jeffrey Dahmer.

Yes, that Jeffrey Dahmer. 

Some potential readers were also put off, Backderf said in a recent interview for an Oakland, Calif., newspaper. "They think it's a story about [his] crimes, or something that glorifies him, or a sleazy, exploitative comic book. … It is, of course, none of those things."

Instead, his acclaimed memoir humanizes the troubled outlier who would become one of the country's most notorious serial killers. Written and directed by Marc Meyers ("How He Fell in Love"), and starring one-time Disney Channel fixture Ross Lynch ("Austin & Alley"), the movie likewise steers clear of psychoanalysis, making it all the more harrowing and compelling because it doesn't try to rationalize.

An award-winning cartoonist whose weekly strip "The City" ran for years in The Village Voice and other publications, Backderf befriended Dahmer in the 1970s when they were high-school seniors in Ohio. Dahmer, who kept to himself, was inclined to bizarre, attention-grabbing outbursts, reason enough for Derf and a few other geeks to form The Dahmer Fan Club. 

The Dahmer Fan Club, headed by Derf Backderf (Alex Wolff)
Jeffrey Dahmer and his prom date

But Dahmer's troubles were real. He was depressed, his home life was in tatters and he was beginning to entertain the homosexual fantasies that he would later act out. He was also dissolving road kill in jars of acid in a shed behind his home, abusing living animals and drinking heavily. 

The movie doesn't shy from any of that, and at times is disturbingly graphic, but thanks to Lynch, the shuffling, stone-faced Dahmer isn't all that different from the peculiar classmate that we remember from high school. Anne Heche ("Donnie Brasco") and Dallas Roberts ("Dallas Buyers Club") turn in strong performances as Dahmer's parents, as does Alex Wolff ("Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle") as Backderf.

Dahmer becomes obsessed with a runner on a road near his home.

The print is solid enough, with consistent detail and sharp contrasts. What really stands out, though, is the color saturation -- the picture it paints makes for an uneasy fit with the pall hanging over the story. The audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes -- the former provides some ambient sounds, but because this is a dialogue-driven movie, you can't go wrong with either.

Where "My Friend Dahmer" misfires is with the extras: It cries for a feature about Dahmer, who was beaten to death in 1994 by an inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wis. Given all that has been written and filmed about him, there's no reason for not recruiting an author or documentarian to weigh in here. Instead, we get a behind-the-scenes slideshow and a 3-minute interview with Lynch, who talks about shooting in Dahmer's house but doesn't have time to get into much detail.

But that's the only misfire. "My Friend Dahmer" is an original -- a harrowing, compelling original -- that will stay with you long after the credits.

- Craig Shapiro

Movie Trailer



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