Written & Directed by: David Jacobson
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Artel Kayaru, Bruce Davison, Kate Williamson, Dion Basco
- Running audio commentary by writer/director Jacobson and actors Renner and Kayaru
- Featurette: The Mind is a Place of its Own
Released by: First Look Pictures
Anamorphic: No, full-frame only.
My Advice: Rental.
How does someone become a serial killer? Experts point to childhood abuse, neurological damage, or even genetic predisposition. But none of these theories fully explain why some people turn to murder and some don’t. These concepts are addressed, if not answered, in Dahmer. Taking place near the end of his run, Dahmer (Renner) is busy collecting victims, but is in a reflexive mood. This mood intensifies when he doesn’t give one of them, Rodney (Kayaru), enough drugs to knock him out and he remains conscious. Having to actually interact with him, Dahmer flashes back to the incidents that may have started him on this course and on his father (Davison) who also tried to reach out to Jeffery, but couldn’t begin to see what dark desires lurked behind his son’s eyes.
[ad#longpost]This could have been an exploitative orgy of blood, death, and kinky sex. Instead director Jacobson and actor Renner give us a look at the man behind the monster. We find a man who is so incapable of dealing with men he desires, they must be made unconscious, lobotomized, or dead for Dahmer to enjoy himself. Instead of the overconfident, brilliant, vicious monsters in suspense crime novels and movies like The Bone Collector or Eye See You, Dahmer managed to avoid detection through luck, police apathy, and a general assumption that Dahmer was harmless and couldn’t possibly be a serial killer.
Renner gives an unsettling performance that invokes equal parts pity and anxiousness from the audience. He conveys Dahmer’s extreme conflict between his need for companionship and his fear of rejection and shows him as a damaged soul, not a mad-dog killer. Kayaru and Davison also give good performances as people who care for Dahmer, but have no clue how deep he has gone into the abyss. The direction is well thought out with minimal gore and violence well placed for maximum effect. Another indication of Jacobson’s subtlety is his use of different color schemes and film stock for his flashbacks. Jacobson has a respect for the audience’s intelligence and doesn’t spoon-feed them the standard Hollywood devices.
Jacobson talks about this approach in his commentary with actors Renner and Kayaru. He discusses how he used color schemes (making Dahmer’s bedroom dark red) to convey mood and atmosphere. The talk gives some good production anecdotes such as how Renner told people while shooting on location in Milwaukee that he was playing Simon Le Bon, lead singer of Duran Duran and how limited budgets forced the cast and crew to work in stifling hot bars and dilapidated department stores. The actors also talk of their initial trepidation of acting in a piece about the infamous cannibal, but were attracted to the script and the challenge of bringing these characters to life. Renner described how he concentrated on little details such as how his character held a cigarette. The featurette goes more into how the production team worked to not glamorize Dahmer, but also not to make him into a stereotypical “monster.”
If you’re looking for a biographical or exploitive film on Jeffery Dahmer, this is not for you. But if you want something different, rent Dahmer.