“My Friend Dahmer” is a first hand account of the world’s most famous serial killer’s troubled high school years. The up-close-and-personal look is based on a graphic novel and memoir by artist John “Derf” Backderf, a childhood friend of the future cannibal.
“Jeff’s a little off, right?” “Yeah,” says Derf (Alex Wolff), “that’s what we like about him.” The guys are talking about their classmate’s habit of “spazzing out to the max.” Outwardly he’s like a lot of teenagers. Shy and bullied, he acts out in public to make up for the attention he doesn’t get at home.
Privately it’s a different story. An unhealthy interest in roadkill and binge drinking point to the inner demons that would eventually consume him and push him to kill and consume seventeen people between 1978 and 1991.
“My Friend Dahmer” effectively captures Dahmer’s extreme teen angst. Like John Hughes with deep psychological undercurrents, it is a picture of regular American life with a twist. At its heart is former Disney Channel star Lynch. His broodingly empathetic performance haunts the film, building tension as Dahmer becomes disconnected from his family—mentally ill mother (Anne Heche) and ineffective father (Dallas Roberts)—and friends.
It’s a remarkable performance that hits all the notes. When asked what line of work he wants to get into he replies, straight-faced, “biology.” It’s a funny line delivered with just enough chill to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Later, when he tries to convince a classmate to go to the prom with him he says, “You want to seem normal, right?” Those words hang heavy in the air as Dahmer slowly loses his grip.
“My Friend Dahmer” builds to a chilling climax that will make you lean forward in your seat but never really pulls back the layers of the killer’s psyche. Lynch’s tortured soul routine is well realized but the film never gets too far past blaming the parents for the deeds of the child.