Dahmer (2002) Review
‘Dahmer’ is the biopic of a seasoned serial killer who stalked the streets of Milwaukee hunting for potential victims. Produced by Blockbuster Films and DEJ Productions, ‘Dahmer’ takes its topic to the next level of indecency but tries its hardest to provide a thought-provoking slice of true crime cinema.
With the popularity of ‘Extremely Wicked’, ‘Shockingly Evil’ and ‘Vile’ I decided to plunge headfirst into the 2002 Jeremy Renner fragmented biopic ‘Dahmer’, which delves into the deviant dark mind of one of the most notorious gay serial killers in history, Jeffrey Dahmer.
The movie, directed and written by David Jacobson, follows two blurred timelines, the present running in ordinary chronological order covering the period of two days; then we are given the past, told through flashbacks that go in reverse order, starting with his first murder and its aftermath, eventually ending with a flashback of Jeffrey riding in a car with his father on the way to a therapy session, intercut with a scene in which he dissects one of his victims on his bed.
The present, which follows Dahmer patrolling gay bars of Milwaukee hunting for a potential victim and contemplating the fate of his prey, provides the most
insight and allows Renner (Dahmer) to push the boundaries of his repressed character. His depiction during this time frame is the most disturbing. We witness the burning desires of the title character, a sad-eyed loner whose exterior is as deceptive as his gifts of persuasion. The past, however, tries its hardest to develop the evolution of the monster, from his tortured relationship with his father, played effortlessly by Bruce Davison, to his feelings of emotional isolation and his brief struggles with alcoholism, with lesser success.
‘Dahmer’, while not entirely unsuccessful in its execution, does fall headfirst into the trap of imagining that it can somehow rationalize the madman at the centre of the piece while entertaining its audience. At times ‘Dahmer’ comes across as nothing but a one-trick pony that trades on its exploitative dud note with specific scenes playing up to the sexual nature of the killer, with the focus less on the telling and more on the visual velocity of its shock value.
"Dahmer patrolling gay bars of Milwaukee hunting for a potential victim and contemplating the fate of his prey, provides the most insight and allows Renner (Dahmer) to push the boundaries of his repressed character."
Jacobson’s direction is fluid and he makes the most of his budget. His writing skill skilfully demonstrates that Dahmer’s pathology evolved from impulses and grew hideously demented as time went on. He also delivers the chills when Dahmer lures his young victims to his home, where he conducts experiments on them before eventually murdering them, trying to create the ultimate living zombie.
In saying all that, the film trades off the most brutal aspects of the killer’s life, and for entertainment value it’s not at all fun. It’s a sad slice of true crime cinema that doesn’t know when enough is enough.
Not as pointless as ‘Gacy’, yet not as intriguing as ‘Extremely Wicked’, ‘Shockingly Evil’ and ‘Vile’. ‘Dahmer’ sits somewhere between its exploitative beginnings and the biographical roots it aims for. If you’re looking for light entertainment this is not it, but if you want a film that will leave you with more questions than answers and you don’t mind feeling dirty by the time the credits roll, knock yourself out. Maybe I’m getting old, but this film was not for me.