Rebellious and uncomfortable, Ryan Murphy’s new true-crime series feigns humanity by focusing on Dahmer’s victims, but revels in her agony over ten long episodes.
This review of Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is spoiler-free.
Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most insane and prolific serial killers in history. A bespectacled Milwaukee alcoholic, Dahmer murdered seventeen men and boys between 1978 and 1991. And he didn’t just kill his victims — he wounded them while they were alive and dead, dismembering them, dissolving their chunks in giant jars of acid, and leaving chunks aside to either eat or keep as trophies. He’s earned the nickname “Milwaukee Monster” for a reason. If a novelist made up half the things he did, he would be accused of laying it on too thick.
But I didn’t wind down this laundry list of deplorable activities as an indulgence, at least not in the manner of Ryan Murphy’s awkwardly titled Netflix show Dahmer – Monsters: The Story of Jeffrey Dahmer does. It’s worth mentioning as a reminder of what exactly is being dramatized here as entertainment, and also the morbid fascination contemporary viewers seem to have with this sort of true crime. What does it say about our artists and the networks and platforms that host them? What does it say about us that we are willing to pay for the privilege of being exposed to the very worst we are capable of?
Of course not to preach everything. Part of the attraction is obvious; There is a fascination in the most extreme forms of human behavior because – hopefully at least – they seem so incredibly far removed from our everyday lives. When we see what people like Dahmer do, it makes us feel better about ourselves, about that one time we told a white lie, or stole a Twix, or whatever that thing is that we cling to out of fear cling, it makes us awful. Dahmer makes the most awkward person you know look like Mother Theresa.
But the question remains, why do we want to know that, perhaps especially why do we want to see it in this form that doesn’t have the veneer of seriousness that a documentary offers. (Next month, Conversations with a Murderer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes will be debuting on Netflix, just in case you wanted to hear all of this again from the horse’s mouth.) In attempting to infuse Dahmer’s story and crimes with humanity by framing them from the perspective of his victims, Murphys latest work on a ghastly parade of pain. Terror and suffering for no reason I can fathom other than the fact that people will eat it up right away.
The problem is that the show is good. Not morally, of course. But on a technical level, it’s an often impressive piece of work, full of great acting and captivating imagery. Longtime Murphy collaborator Evan Peters plays Dahmer – with an uncanny resemblance, I must say – as a sort of menacing android, someone whose emotional damage and trauma have negated any semblance of genuine humanity. He speaks as if rehearsing lines in a mirror, with a flat affect and without faith. But when his true fantasies surface, Peters moves them somewhere between excitement and frustration. Contrasted with the raw humanity of its victims, the effect becomes immediately unsettling and then uncomfortable as it becomes clear that the point is to enjoy the suffering.
At several points during the first episode I wondered if the show was being made to laugh. Dahmer tries to write off the bad smell emanating from his apartment as leftover pork chops and then dead tropical fish. When his latest victim escapes and calls the police, Dahmer tries to explain why he’s handcuffed as “something gay stuff.” His aha-shucks routine, “We’re just a bunch of homosexuals,” is like a twisted version of Steve Buscemi’s “How are you, fellow kids?” meme – a monster that acts like a human being and tries to blend in, where it doesn’t belong.
The point of this whole play is that Dahmer almost won over the Bulls. But savvy listeners are less easily fooled. We’ve seen well-known actors play creepy serial killers many times; Heartthrob Zac Efron played Ted Bundy for Netflix and the BBC four livesStephen Merchant played Stephen Port, another literal looking man who raped and killed young gay men, in another series that’s mostly – and I have to say more sensitively – about the victims.
But you can’t accuse dahmer of sensitivity. It’s a somber endeavor that seems bent on testing the limits of what viewers can endure. Presumably it will be at least the ten episodes that the series runs as it will no doubt be incredibly popular and spark a meme fest on Twitter. But it made me a little gross, to be honest.
READ: Who is Jeffrey Dahmer and what happened to the serial killer?
You can stream Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story exclusively on Netflix.
https://readysteadycut.com/2022/09/21/dahmer-monster-the-jeffrey-dahmer-story-review-lurid-and-uncomfortable/ Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story review