“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.
“The Grey,” the new Liam Neeson film, is an art house action movie. The bravado that colors most action flicks is gone, replaced by equal parts despair and intestinal fortitude.
Neeson plays John Ottway, a sharpshooter and Wolf Whisperer hired to keep predatory wolves out of an oil station in the remotest part of Alaska. He becomes the leader of a ragtag group of survivors when the plane transporting them to their oil job crashes in the wilderness. Hunted by wolves and exposed to the elements Ottway’s know-how is the only thing between freezing to death, or worse, becoming the big bad wolf’s dinner.
The thing that separates “The Grey” from other man versus nature movies is the characters. At first glance they are the usual assortment of rough and ready characters, the edgy chatterbox, the ex con, but soon nuances appear.
The point of the whole thing is survival, but along the way the cast (Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, and James Badge Dale) discuss the intricacies of life, shed tears, question faith and even recite poetry when not fighting off steely-eyed wolves. You won’t find this kind of behavior in other action movies because those films are about setting up the action and the payoff. “The Grey” isn’t, it wants you to get to know the men so when something awful happens to them, you care.
Mostly it works. (MILD SPOILER) The climax of Frank Grillos’ Diaz character is particularly effective as it gets to the very heart of why—or why not—this man will survive.
As good as the ensemble ism, this is Neeson’s movie. He plays a broken man who has recently lost his wife and the memory of her haunts him. He’s suicidal and lost, but learns a new lust for life in this adverse situation. Whether the tragic loss of his wife in real life informed this role, I wouldn’t presume to day, but there is a haunted quality to his performance that seems deeply felt.
Be warned, however, as intelligent as “The Grey” is, it’s also borders on horror, playing on fear of barren spaces—bring an extra scarf, the howling wind effect alone will chill you to the bone—and well, corpse eating wolves. But even though it is sometimes graphic, it still resonates emotionally.