This is the story of one of America’s many and growing number of killers. Jeffrey Dahmer is a serial killer who was caught in 1991 and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. His capture led to the discovery of 17 victims all of whom he had drugged and mutilated over a period of many years beginning from 1978. His notoriety has resulted in his story being told in many adaptations including Dahmer in 2002 starring Jeremy Renner, and more recently My Friend Dahmer in 2017. I have not seen any of these so am unable to make any comparisons.
What I can confirm is that this Netflix series gives a vivid account of the killer and killings with the narration told from not only the killer’s perspective, but also from the victims, the neighbours, and Jeffrey’s parents’ point of view. The killings are often reenacted in great detail and sometimes goes on in real-time. This style actually heightens the audience’s engagement making it difficult to watch especially since we can guess the outcome. One particular stand out episode (episode 6 – Silenced), focused entirely on one particular victim, Tony Hughes (played brilliantly by Rodney Burford), a deaf gay who Jeffrey befriends and have a seemingly genuine liking for. This segment is so sensitively captured, that we end up with strong feelings for the victim and his family by the time we arrive at the inevitable conclusion.
Jeffrey targets all his victims to be black and dark coloured young men (with some as young as 14 years old) who are gay. According to the series, he managed to get away with his killings mainly due to police incompetence and the Biase treatment of the American justice system against the black and immigrant community. This becomes not just the story of the killer, but as much a tale of the failure of the law enforcement system, racial and gay discrimination, and the repercussions of the killings to the families of the victims.
For the most part, I found the series excellent and a compelling watch. The performances were top notched across the board with Evan Peters giving possibly his career best performance as Jeffrey. His downplaying style actually makes Jeffrey more chilling and totally believable. Also providing strong supporting roles were Richard Jenkins as the father, Molly Ringwald as the stepmother, and Niecy Nash as the neighbor. Being a Ryan Murphy production means you can expect little or no restrain in the portrayal of the horror in the story. In many ways this series is far more terrifying and horrific than the American Horror Story series.
My main grib is in the final episodes which felt disjointed, repetitive and unfocused. They seem to be trying too hard to make a point on the effects on the families of the victims, the prejudices of society, and the inefficiencies of the law that allowed people like Jeffrey Dahmer to carry out his killings for so long. However, these were already covered in the earlier episodes and the long-winded regurgitation of these same themes felt like fillers. I believe the series may have benefited if it had been trimmed to 8 episodes rather than 10 episodes as the final 4 episodes really fell short on excellence when compared to the preceeding episodes which were brilliant.
Dahmer is definitely not a series that would appeal to everyone. In fact, most people will probably find it disgusting and unwatchable from the very first episode. I always like provocative and well-made true-life dramas, and this definitely falls under that category. It is not an easy watch, and it often gets uncomfortable with its violence and elaborately recreated murder scenes. And yet, I find myself totally drawn into the story and motivated to binge watch the series. Is the “monster” in the title is referring to the serial killer depicted on the screen or the viewers who continues watching?