Written by: Matt Patti | October 31st, 2022
Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Ian Brennan/Ryan Murphy, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
One of America’s most notorious serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer killed seventeen men between 1978 and 1991. Dahmer’s main targets were gay Black men, with many of whom he’d explored sexual relationships. This disturbed individual would often dismember his victims, perform necrophilic acts, and even consume the organs of those he murdered. When reports of Dahmer’s atrocities hit the news, it shook residents in the town of Milwaukee, and of the entire United States, to their core. Now, over 30 years after Dahmer’s arrest in 1991, the new Netflix series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (aka Dahmer) explores the demented Dahmer, his life, and how his actions affected so many around him.
Dahmer takes a deep dive into all aspects of its protagonist’s life, from his early beginnings as a child growing up with parents who constantly fight to his murderous adult life all the way through to his time in prison. Jeffrey Dahmer is played by the exceptional Evan Peters (I Am Woman), who turns in a phenomenal performance as the serial killer. Each episode focuses on a different era in Dahmer’s life or, especially in the later episodes, a different person or group his actions has affected. The pacing can sometimes be a bit befuddling as, especially in the early episodes, it’s a bit unclear as to which moment in time we find ourselves, with much bouncing back and forth between different years. However, the show eventually does tighten up, and the ensuing ride is an intriguing—if deeply disturbing—one.
Peters’ performance as Jeffrey Dahmer is a feat and genuinely one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a series. Peters is able to completely transform into the socially awkward yet cold and calculated monster, performing many of the strange mannerisms and adopting the particular vernacular Jeffrey Dahmer used. Seemingly a nerdy but normal midwestern young adult, Dahmer spends much of his time at a gay nightclub where he scopes out potential future victims. Dahmer highlights how his actions affect a very vulnerable group of people: the Black homosexual community. His murders hurt many others deeply, as well, and the show focuses on a select few devastated people, such as the family of two young boys Jeff took advantage of (and one he killed), the family of a deaf but energetic young man, and even Jeff’s next-door neighbor, Glenda (Niecy Nash, Uncorked).
A momentous focus of Dahmer is the failure of the police to act. Having been warned several times by bystanders, and specifically Glenda, the police have multiple opportunities to apprehend Dahmer yet choose not to on each occasion, either not taking the threat seriously or simply not caring about the low-income, underserved communities so targeted. The inexcusable inaction of the Milwaukee police department is put under the microscope, even inspiring a movement of necessary justice and accountability at the hands of a civil rights leader and Glenda, herself. The show also narrows in on Dahmer’s family and how the events affected them in various different ways.
There are many who wonder if a series like Dahmer even ought to be made, especially without any input from the families of the victims. It is a very unnerving watch, for sure, but is also immensely compelling and thought-provoking. The show is careful not to over-glorify Dahmer’s acts through an overload of blood and gore. In fact, we do not even see many of the murders, only their lead-up and aftermath. I believe the team behind Dahmer does a great job of being respectful of the real-life events that have occurred and do their part in highlighting the problems that allowed Dahmer to succeed in his evildoing instead of focusing on cheap horror scares.
Overall, I think Dahmer is a fantastic series that makes viewers feel equal parts uncomfortable and angry. It raises the anxiety levels of its audience with tense, eerie scenes and then appeals to their sense of sympathy and disgust at the lack of action from authorities. It is my sincere hope that a series like Dahmer can inspire many to stand up and speak out and hold authorities accountable so that a horrifying situation like this one doesn’t happen again.