'My Friend Dahmer' review: Its horrors will haunt you
Hunched over with fury, he violently sliced its belly open in the summer sun.
Over and over.
Two boys watched as the mutilation unfolded.
Finally, seconds later, it was over. The gutted fish lifeless at his feet.
"I just wanted to see what its insides looked like,” the high school senior timidly announced.
Just months later, that teen would claim the life of Steven Hicks, a lone hitchhiker looking for a ride in a small town just outside of Akron. It would be the first of 17 grisly murders at the hand of Ohio-born serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
That sets the scene for My Friend Dahmer, a new film based on a graphic novel by the same title that was created by one of his classmates at Revere High School.
See images from the movie:
If you’re expecting this to be a slasher-style horror movie, think again. My Friend Dahmer is a dark drama that tells the tale of Dahmer’s life leading up to the hours before he murders Hicks.
The film, which was shot throughout Northeast Ohio in 2016, begins with Dahmer quietly riding in a Summit County school bus blankly staring at a young man jogging along the road. He was intrigued and wanted more. Throughout the days that follow, Dahmer hides in the woods near his home peering through the trees obsessively waiting to secretly spy on the unidentified runner. His eccentric enthusiasm for the mysterious man morphs into madness as he imagines cuddling with his dead body.
Just five minutes into the film, Dahmer’s fascination with death was thrust into the spotlight through his intense interest in roadkill. At times, he rolled the bones of dead animals between his fingertips and collected critters that met their untimely demise underneath a car tire. Although Dahmer tried doing “normal” things at his father’s request, he just didn’t fit into anything.
The only time he captured attention from his fellow classmates came during outrageous outbursts in school while flailing his arms and shouting gibberish nonsense. His antics caught the eye of a group of boys, including Derf Backderf, the man who crafted the My Friend Dahmer graphic novel. Backderf -- portrayed by Alex Wolff of Nickelodeon's Naked Brothers Band -- and his buddies befriend Dahmer by encouraging his odd behavior – even paying him to emotionally erupt inside a local shopping mall.
"Is he insane or what?" one boy asked.
"I think he's kinda hilarious,” Backderf exclaimed.
As they grew closer, Backderf began drawing a variety of sketches depicting Dahmer as a characters like a superhero or King Kong. Intrigued by the drawings, Dahmer offered to sketch a girl in school by requesting she get on the floor as he outlined her body like the remnants of a crime scene.
But it gets way darker. One of the hardest scenes to watch involves Dahmer luring a dog into the woods with food. When they get far enough away from any surrounding homes, Dahmer pulls out a knife and debates internally with killing the animal. After several suspenseful seconds, Dahmer lets the dog flee.
Much of the movie was shot at Dahmer’s actual childhood home, which sits just off I-77 on West Bath Road in Summit County’s Bath Township. It was this same location where Hicks was killed on June 18, 1978.
See photos inside Dahmer's childhood home:
The house becomes an ominous nighttime setting near the film’s finale as Dahmer attempts to entice Backderf to come inside for a beer. “Your house is pretty dark,” Backderf said before rejecting the offer. But Dahmer persists, continually asking Backderf to join him inside the house. After all, it wouldn’t take very long to have one beer. Plus, the place was empty because his parents were gone. This is one of those movie moments where the audience shouts at the character to “not go in there.” Well, he went in. Once inside, Backderf's eyes nervously dart around the dark living room quickly realizing something isn’t right.
“Um, I think I should get a move on,” Backderf said while nudging around Dahmer and outside into the driveway. What follows is a nail-biting scene with Dahmer lurking in the shadows with a baseball bat as Backderf’s engine struggles to start.
Lynch has come a long way from his Disney days in Austin and Ally. A true Dahmer doppelganger, Lynch feels eerily authentic through his physical stature, hair and glasses. His unenthusiastic mannerisms, confidence-lacking walk and mild-mannered voice are extraordinarily convincing.
Lynch was the perfect pick, no doubt.
There are gobs of references to Northeast Ohio, too, including Summit Mall, Michael Stanley, Chippewa Lake, WMMS and Laughing Sal from Euclid Beach Park. A keen eye will even recognize local spots in the film like Middleburg Heights Jr. High School, DeVitis Italian Market and Gasoline Alley. Cameron McKendry, a local actor, also has a role in the flick.
My Friend Dahmer delivers a disturbingly frightening glimpse inside the mind of a reprehensible man synonymous with unthinkable evil. Although none of the gruesome murders are showcased, knowing what happened in real life is scary enough. Its horrors will haunt you.
Oddly enough, the film creates an atmosphere of sympathy for Dahmer as his coming-of-age story unfolds before your eyes. There are times you feel sorry for his family struggles and lack of friends, but you also realize he's an absolute monster in the making. An interestingly strange dilemma.
The movie is rated R for disturbing images, language, teen drug use, drinking, sexual content and brief nudity.