My Friend Dahmer is disturbing from the beginning, probably because we already know the subject’s destiny. The film is based on a graphic novel of the same name, in which John “Derf” Backderf (played by Alex Wolff in the adaptation) recounts his high school friendship with soon-to-be rapist, serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer. Former Disney star Ross Lynch is chilling as a young Dahmer: a troubled, weird kid who struggles with alcoholism, repressed homosexuality as well as his parents’ (Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts) abusive relationship and subsequent divorce.
We don’t see Dahmer harm any people over the course of the film, as the credits are rolling before he commits his first murder. The grotesque moments involve Dahmer’s fascination with collecting roadkill, dissolving it in acid—something he has access to thanks to his chemist father—and examining the bones. It becomes clear that this is no harmless interest in biology, especially as he starts killing animals himself (“I just wanted to see what its insides looked like,” he tells his friends after gutting a fish he was supposed to release). As Dahmer’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, the audience is asked to wrestle with the same question as when we look at the life of any murderer: Are killers born or made? Cliché but true—maybe it’s both. You find yourself feeling kind of bad for the guy, then you must remind yourself he literally ate people. My Friend Dahmer is uncomfortable to sit through, but a must-watch for anyone fascinated with the true crime genre.