E-cinema: “My Friend Dahmer” or the teenager who became a serial killer

The opinion of the “World” – to see

This is a funny object. A strange project. A film that it is possible to perceive in a very different way depending on what we know about the personality of its main protagonist. John “Derf” Backderf is a cartoonist who had, as a high school companion, a future serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, nicknamed “the cannibal of Milwaukee”. Dahmer murdered seventeen people between 1978 and 1991, mostly young men he picked up in gay bars. Some victims were dismembered, skinned and sometimes devoured by the killer, a blond angel with blue eyes sometimes practicing acts of necrophilia on the corpses.

Derf Backderf has drawn a comic book recounting his high school years of which this film, directed by Marc Meyers, is the faithful adaptation. Jeffrey Dahmer appears there as a solitary, introverted, somewhat bizarre schoolboy. He picks up dead animals on the side of the roads, which he keeps in jars to engage in chemical experiments. His behavior, which sometimes borders on what one thinks is comic extravagance (he mimics epileptic fits, for example), earns him the admiration of some of his classmates (including Backderf), who, seeing in him a public entertainer, a distraction torn from the boring routine of college, creates a “Jeff Dahmer fan-club”.

Expertly balanced ambiguity

If we knew nothing about the future of this character, we could not see, in My Friend Dahmer, that one of these many films belonging to the category of highschool movies, these “high school” films produced industrially in Hollywood and featuring teenagers, navigating between training stories and a little idiotic schoolboy burlesque. At most, we would notice here the sometimes somewhat strange behavior of an opaque, if not obtuse, protagonist. But the first interest of the film undoubtedly lies in the fact that the viewer’s knowledge of the future of the central character insidiously subverts the genre. How to detect, in Dahmer’s manners, his tics and his whims, the acting of the actor (incredible Ross Lynch), in these various details which could be only insignificant, which would announce the bloody future of the killer?

Portrait of a psychopath before he really takes action, the film scatters a series of notations whose premonitory character should be grasped (or not, everything is in a skilfully measured ambiguity). Is there an implacable determination of the things that cinema could account for? How works the mind of a spectator pushed, by watching Marc Meyers’ film, to carry out a kind of wild analytical work, condemned to seek the invisible cause of a future and fatal effect?

Jeffrey Dahmer is also an unfortunate who we know that no providence can save him

But, by capturing the youth of a monster in this way, the cinema also finds, strangely, a capacity for redemption undoubtedly inherent in the medium. It is thus impossible not to feel a form of compassion for a character who could have been a burlesque figure and who will be the object of a sad and miserable fate. Immersed in a family made up of a hysterical mother, prone to violent crises (it is her whom he imitates when he is shaken by convulsions while making his congeners laugh in the corridors of the high school), and a A weak and absent father, left to his own devices, visibly repressing a homosexuality perceived as painful and shameful, Jeffrey Dahmer is also an unfortunate person from whom we know that no providence can save him.

It is in the film’s ability to insidiously change genre that its nature asserts itself. In his final moments, My Friend Dahmer slides imperceptibly towards the film of terror. Fear sets in and a form of suspense builds, which gradually leads to the first murder, accomplished after his last year of school, at the end of high school, at the end of the film, preparing for a horror to come which will remain offscreen. .

American film by Marc Meyers. With Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Anne Heche (1h47). Broadcast on the e-cinema.com platform.

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E-cinema: “My Friend Dahmer” or the teenager who became a serial killer

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