Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali
Story of the Milwaukee Monster told from the perspective of the victims and police incompetence that allowed the Wisconsin native to go on a killing spree for several years.
After this ten part series hit Nextflix a couple of months ago, the question on everybody’s lips was whether we really needed to spend 8 hours and 54 minutes following one of the most infamous and depraved serial killer in American history.
Sensationalistic, exploitative, bad taste, pointless, were just some of the adjectives and words used to describe the series by many critics.
But then again, this sort of argument could be made about any film which centres around serial killers or indeed any crime story, which might revel in the gruesome details of whatever given murder and in the sadness caused to the victims and their next-to-kin.
Crime stories, whether based on real events or not, have always been one of the most sought out genre in films and TV. The fact that this is a real story, doesn’t necessarily make it any different from an Agatha Christie story, or films like Seven or Silence of the Lambs.
As it happens, this series is also not the first adaptation of the Dahmer story: only a couple years ago My Friend Dahmer was released to great critical acclaim (and a great and powerful performance by former Disney Channel child star Ross Lynch ).
What sets this apart from any other series or films about serial killers, is the almost forensic attention to every detail and facet of the story and the willingness to try to see it from all possible points of view, without ever judging or taking sides, without making the protagonist a hero and most importantly taking care in respecting and portraying with great depth and the most delicate consideration the feelings of family members of the victims and all of those people who got scarred for life by the events.
An entire episode (Silenced) for example, is devoted to Dahmer’s relationship with young deaf model. It is mostly told from his perspective, all with subtitles, with little or no audio, making the sad outcome even harder to watch, comprehend and accept.
This is not just a story of the brutal crimes and the twisted killer, but it’s also about the world he inhabited, it’s about politics, about racism within the police force (something which America, is still trying to reckon with), it’s about social exclusion, it’s about the mistakes people make within families, it’s about coming to terms with unspeakable tragedies, about solidarity and the search for closure and justice.
The figure of the father of Dahmer is particularly interesting (courtesy of a stellar performance by Richard Jenkins): a complex man full of faults, who has certainly made gigantic mistakes, but whose willingness to offer his son unconditional love and unqualified forgiveness is almost heart-breaking.
There are no easy answers, nothing. Is black or white… but shades of grey.
I won’t deny it, this is not for those with a weak stomach. After the first episode, which takes place almost in real time, as Dahmer lures his next potential victims to his apartment, I wasn’t quite sure I was going to be able to stick with it.
I’m happy I did, because despite all the grimness and sadness (and believe me, there’s plenty of that), this is a very well-made series, handsomely directed (some episodes are by Jennifer Lynch, David Lynch’s daughter), beautifully acted, photographed and even carefully scored (Nick Cave collaborated on the soundtrack, which is used very sparingly).
Yes, ten episodes are a lot, but for most of it I was mesmerised, as well as shocked, angered, frustrated, heart-broken and in tears more than once.
And apparently I wasn’t alone: at the time of writing this, Dahmer is one of the most watched TV series on Netflix and a second and third series have just been commissioned (focused on different “monsters”).
I’m not 100% sure I was completely on board with the fragmented editing, and the jumping back and forth within the timeline, which at times I found a bit distracting, but in retrospect I can see, that was another decision the series took to try to avoid being sensationalistic and exploitative. Yes, the series constantly walks on the edge, but always, in my view, falls on the right side.
Without sounding too patronising, it almost felt to me this was a tribute to all those killed by Dahmer: the memorial that the United States failed to deliver.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is available to watch on Netflix.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival will be back next year
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