Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer
Note: I generally do not like to award star ratings to movies. I am adding it here to be within the format. I very humbly request readers and visitors who come to this web page to read my thoughts on this movie in entirety; let’s not limit film criticism to merely giving out stars. I am always in favour of more elaborate discussion on cinema.
When bankable names like Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan collaborate yet again, this time to create a fictional series based on the life of the infamous American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, the expectations are bound to be high. Though there have been many fictional and documentary shows and series on Dahmer already, the audiences can expect something new and fresh from this show. Does it deliver? For the major part, yes it does.
With 10 episodes worth of screen time the makers get to set up their world methodically with all the intricate details and they do just that. Just like the 2002 feature film Dahmer, on the same person, this show too uses a non linear narrative. The very first episode actually has Dahmer in his apartment in Milwaukee, Viscosin with Tracy Edwards. In this episode Dahmer is already in full predatory form. The later episodes go both backwards and forwards establishing much of the characters and story. I would say the makers have made a good use of the non linear narrative, sometimes the same scenes are shown twice from different character’s perspectives to diversify the story. In the first few episodes there is a good use of match edits too. For people who have watched enough documentaries/ dramatic shows and movies on Jeffrey Dahmer before may not find the first five episodes that engaging, and it’s pretty understandable. The makers once again trace the titular character to his childhood, and gradually build the story from there. This is something that many other previous popular media content based on him have already done. For me, I had not seen any content on Dahmer prior to this show, so I found this part interesting. I particularly admire the way this show portrays Dahmer’s gradual transition from an attention deprived, misunderstood young boy with an unstable childhood to the person he later becomes. Both Jeffrey and Lionel come across as very real people, they feel like actual people bound by limitations of their nature, their personalities and their circumstances.
The sixth episode is the game changer of the show. It’s the episode from which the story is no longer told from Dahmer’s perspective but rather from one of his victim’s perspective. It’s also here, that the show stops being only about Dahmer. It becomes the story of all the characters whose lives were affected by him. A majority of this segment is dedicated to Dahmer’s neighbour Glenda Cleaveland. The character Glenda Cleavland in this show is actually an amalgamation of the real Dahmer’s real next door neighbour Pamela Bass, and the actual Glenda Cleaveland, who lived in a building next to Dahmer’s apartment. Glenda also turns out to be a well designed, well written character as the show progresses.
Another aspect of the show that sets it apart from many crime dramas is the way the aftermath of Dahmer’s capture is portrayed. This section of the show inadvertently becomes a social commentary of the American mind set. It explores how the Ameerican society treats the existence of a person that is so different from everyone around. This diversification of the story works very well.
However, there is one more attempt at diversifying the story which really didn’t work for me. They tried to do this in the last two episodes. They tried to draw parallels between Dahmer and another similar infamous American personality of the time. This attempt seemed very manipulative and forced to me. I feel they could have skipped this part or could have shown it better.
I particularly did not like the last two episodes. I felt they were trying to make a lot of not so well conceived ideas work. Also these episodes were too melodramatic in tone. The last two episodes for me pulled down the overall quality of the show by a few notches but not too much. The earlier eight episodes make for a good viewing experience though.
Among the acting performances Evan Peters is just excellent as Jeffrey Dahmer. The show would not have been this good had Peters not made his role work so well. He understands his character very well and it shows. He plays Dahmer as neither a complete tyrant nor an overly sympathetic figure, but just a twisted guy trying to cope up with his violent fantasies. The scenes of Dahmer with his Grandma really exhibit some brilliant acting chops from Peters. He comes across scary, and creepy in the most believable way. I really hope the Emmys take notice of his work.
After watching this show, I checked out the 2002 movie Damher where Jeremy Renner played the serial killer. I couldn’t help comparing the two. While Renner did put up a strong performance, in some scenes I did feel he had an issue with keeping a sense of consistency with his portrayal. Peters here is very consistent, very detailed and also very natural in his portrayal.
Richard Jenkins as Lionel Dahmer has also delivered an endearing performance. He plays an old school workaholic Dad, who struggles dealing with his son’s multiple issues. He diverts away from having any tabooed talks with his son, keeps his interactions with his son very superficial and these habits certainly don’t go well for both of them as time progresses.
Neicy Nash as Glenda Cleaveland too portrays her character very well. She’s an alert, careful neighbour living just next door to the most creepy, suspicious person. She struggles reporting on his activities but is not taken seriously. Rodney Burford as Tony Hughes is delightful too.
This is overall a highly ambitious, all encompassing drama series which wants to score at many levels with it’s subject and succeeds at doing so too, at most of them. It’s still worth a viewer’s time and attention. Much recommended.