Film Review: Dahmer (2002)


Film: Dahmer
Director: David Jacobson
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Great, Matt Newton
Release Date: 06/21/02 (theatres) / 06/21/05 (DVD)
Studio: Blockbuster Films / DEJ Productions
Tagline: The mind is a place of it’s own.
Plot: “Based on the true crime story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, this movie tells the emotionally riveting story of a man who turned his darkest fantasies into a horrifying reality.” (Source: IMDB)

Review Score: 5 /5

One vital component attached to serial killers involves the public’s fascination with pinpointing the root cause(s) of their violent psychotic nature. Was their father absent or abusive? Did they grow up in a strict home? Were they bullied by their peers growing up? In Dahmer, director David Jacobson uses past and present sequences to ambiguously determine Dahmer’s undoing and allow audiences to decide. This film is now most famous for helping director Kathryn Bigelow hand-pick actor Jeremy Renner for the lead role in her film The Hurt Locker (2009).  But that news overshadows a very potent film laced with visually-arresting images and a tense story about one of the most prolific serial killers in existence.

dahmer hat

We meet Jeffrey Dahmer (Renner) at his chocolate factory job being asked to train a transferred employee.  He mutters something to the effect of “these hours will make you go crazy.” An ironic statement given the opening job scenes are where we find him at his most sane.  What we follow throughout is witnessing Dahmer’s infamous case files unfold – the drug-induced kidnapping of a young hispanic adolescent, for example.  But the film soars when the non-linear narrative kaleidoscope of his past comes into view.  A cold, stern father.  An escapist mentality. Unnatural sexual fantasy and promiscuity.  The birth of a killer.

First, the acclaimed performance of Jeremy Renner.  There’s good reason you see Renner snatching up lead roles in The TownThe Bourne Legacy, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  The guy can act.  Renner’s Dahmer is eerily intelligent, calm, charming.  He’s the boy-next-door with a headless mannequin in the closet.  Director David Jacobson seems to point Renner to an inner-struggle between good and evil.  Dahmer appears to be a case where the sub-conscious becomes very conscious and nearly tunes out the rest.  But even Jacobson and Renner, in their ambiguous dabbling, never act smarter than the audience and allow them to ultimately decide.

dahmer knife

Finally, the lighting and cinematography.  DP Chris Manley has his way with the color red, drenching the club and Dahmer’s apartment to look like a photo darkroom. Coincidentally, the very places where Dahmer committed his heinous acts.  The washover gritty look of the film reminisces of late ’70s productions, coinciding with Dahmer’s first murder in ’78.  The editing works beautifully to evoke strange emotion in the flashback club scenes when Dahmer drugs and rapes his victims.  Is he enjoying this?

Dahmer is a horror film, albeit not in the modern sense of the word.  There is no gore; in fact, most of the gruesome details of Dahmer’s story are completely left out.   Yet it stands  as a magnificent character study.  The (potential) motive behind the man.

Dahmer (2002) DVD – Amazon
Dahmer (2002) Trailer – YouTube

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