DAHMER (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Aberrant Violence, Sexuality, Language and some Drug Use

Dahmer poster

Directed by: David Jacobson

Written by: David Jacobson

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Kayaru, Matt Newton, Dion Basco & Kate Williamson

When discussing the three most notorious serial killers in American history (Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer), the name that always makes me the most sick to my stomach has to be Dahmer. He may not have the lowest body count out of the trio, but the crimes he committed were disgusting and depraved beyond measure. In the span of little over a decade, Jeffrey Dahmer raped, killed, preserved, and devoured 17 young men. Just like a similar situation in 2002’s misguided BUNDY movie, a terrifying film could potentially be made of the events in Dahmer’s life, but DAHMER isn’t that film. It is an okay flick overall, but this film drags its feet along and director/writer David Jacobson never comes off as fully interested in the true story he’s telling.

Dahmer 1

Jeffrey Dahmer began as a troubled young man with a monster growing inside of him. His family life was dysfunctional to say the least and Dahmer was finding his sexual identity. Jeffrey’s fragile psyche snapped and he killed a man, disposing of his victim’s body in a particularly graphic way. Discovering that murder gave him the ultimate release, Dahmer picked off young homosexuals who he flirted with at a night club. As his descent into madness kept going from bad to worse, cannibalism and necrophilia entered the mix as well. DAHMER provides a snapshot in a non-linear way that chronicles a few of Jeffrey’s most infamous killings as well as providing a human portrayal of an inhuman monster.

Dahmer 2

The best thing in DAHMER comes from Jeffrey Renner in the title role. He could have played this monster as an over-the-top maniac (sort of the way that other misguided actors have played real-life psychopaths), but Renner opts for a more subtle approach that captures exactly how Dahmer acted. If you watch interviews and footage of the killer, he had a slow, calm and deliberate way of speaking. In a sense, he also seemed very mild-mannered on the surface. Both of these important touches are thrown into Renner’s performance. There’s also a thick, disturbing atmosphere hovering over the whole film that ensures the viewer will be uncomfortable from start to finish. There are moments of Jeffrey’s troubled family life, his first killing, and his more notorious work, though the film never gets into his eventual capture and death.

Dahmer 3

The biggest issue that some may have with DAHMER is that it’s too restrained in moments. This is the polar opposite of TED BUNDY (which came out the same year) in that it arguably doesn’t show enough regarding Jeffrey’s crimes. The man was a total psychopath. He raped, murdered, dismembered, and ate his victims. Though there are brief snippets of violence and I don’t advocate making DAHMER into an emotionally hollow exploitation flick, I feel that more should have been seen on-screen to hammer home the sickening nature of this man’s crimes. However, there’s one less-is-more scene that is brutally effective (since the sound of a drill going into someone’s skull can be far more frightening than a bad special effect). The restraint and slow pace of the film also become its downfall. You’re essentially just watching Jeffrey Dahmer kill some of his victims and that’s the whole movie. There’s not exactly a beginning, a middle or an end. In spite of an intense atmosphere, it’s a major problem when you finish a movie about a horrifying true crime story with an apathetic shrug as opposed to being deeply disturbed.


DAHMER isn’t bad movie or even a mediocre one as there’s a serious attempt to capture the icky feeling surrounding this infamous serial killer. Jeremy Renner is fantastic as Jeffrey, nailing every mannerism and speech pattern down to a T. Slow pacing and a rather repetitive screenplay (mainly consisting of Jeffrey Dahmer killing four or five of his victims) drag down what could have been a chilling glimpse into one of the most terrifying serial killers to ever live. You should know by now if you’re interested in seeing this flick. It’s a mixed bag as a whole, but there’s slightly more to praise than there is to ridicule.

Grade: C+

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