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Dahmer (David Jacobson) 2002

   

    One has to immediately start out by questioning the intent of a movie like David Jacobsonís real-life serial killer portrait Dahmer since its premise seems so exploitative from the outset. Under the guise of showing us the man cowering behind the monster, this stagy production sets up scene after scene of suspense in which his victims are placed in peril. There seems to be an inherent disconnect between that exploratory modus operandi, which is rather admirable in its way, and the suspense film trappings that much of the movie adheres to. If the movie is really focused on examining on the mind of the killer (Jeremy Renner, looking a lot like Fassbinder), most of its suspense should rise from the internal conflict of its protagonist (if he even feels conflicted about murdering in the first place) instead of from the danger that the innocents are placed in. Of course, the audience will inherently have empathy with the victims, so to shift to their point of view to one that sympathizes with them as often as Dahmer does seems to be an attempt to wring more drama from an already heightened situation and a disservice to the filmís attempts to focus on its subjectís  psychological makeup.

 

      Since Dahmer resorts to standard slasher flick thrills when it should be most in the mind of the killer, it misses a major opportunity to be truly revelatory about his psyche. When the audience is busy worrying whether or not the intended victim can escape, the filmís potential outcomes dwindle down to two possibilities Ė will he get away or wonít he? Plenty of films have gotten a lot of mileage from that dilemma, but since this one promises more depth than that, the simplification is disappointing. Instead of concentrating on how Dahmerís thought process works in the heat of the moment as his impulses rise, we get a series of flashbacks that offer a series of explanations so perfunctory (his daddy wasnít there for him, heís gay, heís religious, etc.) that the scenes come off like a non-parodic version of the Rodney Dangerfield bit from Oliver Stoneís Natural Born Killers. Since the suspense sequences often turn Dahmer into a monster (weíre supposed to be horrified by the though that it could be us in the victimís place) they defeats the movieís greater purpose, even as they manage to be tense. They place a spin on Dahmerís story so that the viewer sees him exactly as the monster that the sensationalistic media had portrayed him. If that public perception of him was incorrect, the film is shameful because it doesnít set the record straight with new information. If the peopleís impression of Dahmer was right all along, the movie doesnít seem to have much reason for existing beyond the further exploitation of an unfortunate series of events. Such a cut and dry appraisal of Dahmerís behavior might be impossible, but thereís nothing in the movie that makes the moral gray areas more convincing. Are we supposed to sympathize with the serial killer just because he cries a bit after he strikes first blood? Jacobsonís editorial decisions in Dahmer suggest thatís the case, but due to a lack of any sort of accompanying introspection that moment, like most in the film, feels obligatory.

 

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10-16-02 

Jeremy Heilman