ByEmily Browne, writer at
Twitter: @emrbrowne
Emily Browne

Based on a graphic novel by John 'Derf' Backderf, My Friend Dahmer sent critics into a tizzy last month when it premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Set in the 1970s, the movie follows the true story of a high school age Jeffrey Dahmer — the boy who would grow up to sadistically murder 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991.

Backderf really did attend high school with Dahmer, and the graphic novel began life as a cult comic series in the 1990s. The series was crafted as an elaborate response to those who would ask him to recount his time with his to-be murderous classmate. Ross Lynch — better known as wholesome teen Austin Moon in Disney Channel's Austin & Ally, as well as part of family-friendly pop band R5 — was cast in the titular role, one likely to temporarily strip him of his sugary-sweet persona.

The totally creepy adaption was helmed by indie director Marc Meyers, who Backderf entrusted to bring the story to the big screen. The film shot in Dahmer's hometown of Akron, Ohio, and what makes the whole thing even more creepy is that the crew had access to Dahmer's family home, where Dahmer committed his first murder. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Meyers said:

"The story is discomforting, that's just part and parcel of what the book is. Obviously [Jeffrey Dahmer] was unique, but there are lots of kids who fall between the cracks or off the edge of a cliff and end tragically. I think people will be uncomfortable, but tough. That's just part of the story."

Dahmer committed his first murder when he was only 18, three weeks after he graduated from high school. The movie will lead up to this first ferocious attack, in a time before Dahmer wasn't quite so sick but also searching for his soul as an unhinged adolescent. At the start of the novel when Dahmer poses for picture day, he's considered a class clown, and comes from an alarmingly normal suburban family.

But in his novel, Derf recalls a series of bizarre behaviors which tick all the boxes of any would-be serial killer. Dahmer becomes obsessed with bones, and dissolves animals in acid in his father's shed. He faked seizures and fantasized about rape and dissection. He also developed a dependancy on alcohol, and his feelings for a local jogger (Vincent Kartheiser) intensify to the point of obsession. His blank stare and increasing apathy was all an extension of his disconnect from reality which would eventually lead him to bludgeon to death 18-year-old Steven Hicks, dismember his corpse, and grind his bones into dust.

'My Friend Dahmer' [Credit: John Backderf]
'My Friend Dahmer' [Credit: John Backderf]

In the years following the events of My Friend Dahmer, the serial killer became infamous for not just murder, but for dismemberment, cannibalism, molestation, necrophilia and many other highly disturbing behaviors — including drilling into a victim's head while he was still alive.

The movie has received a slew of positive reviews since it premiered at Tribeca, and had a solid 8.9 on IMDB and 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. One Variety review sums up the underlying discomfort watching Dahmer's adolescent years, speaking of the film:

It sees Jeffrey Dahmer for what he was: a young man who could express himself only through the most hideous violence. Yet it shows you that what he had to express was real.

My Friend Dahmer was acquired by FilmRise at Tribeca Film Festival and is expected to be released in North America this fall.

Will you see My Friend Dahmer when it comes out? Have you read the graphic novel? Let us know in the comments.


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