Archive for the ‘My Friend Dahmer (2017)’ Category

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: FilmRise

Release Date: April 10, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:47:32

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

5.1 English Dolby Digital Audio

2.0 English Dolby Digital Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 2.40:1

Notes: This title is also available in the DVD format.

Festival One Sheet

“There are no great ‘lessons’ in the book. But it is certainly a cautionary tale, because people like Dahmer keep popping up with depressing regularity; Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine, Seung-ho Cho at Virginia Tech, most recently Jared Loughner in Tucson…” –John ‘Derf’ Backderf (Book Reporter)

A lot of critics and audiences seem to be missing the point of My Friend Dahmer. It still surprises me that critics and audiences seem unable to digest certain films that do not answer complicated questions. If one reads reviews for the film, this becomes readily apparent. Carla Meyer’s annoying review for the San Francisco Chronicle is simply one of many examples:

“…Based on ex-schoolmate John “Derf” Backderf’s 2012 graphic novel, this thoughtful, non-sensationalistic film focuses on the nurture-vs-nature argument. Yet filmmaker Marc Meyers does not come down strongly enough on either side — nature or nurture — to establish the film as particularly trenchant, or necessary… Which came first, bullies or dead animals in jars? ‘Friend’ does not say, nor is there a clear link between the discord in Jeff’s home and his behavior… ” –Carla Meyer (San Francisco Chronicle, November 14, 2017)

Graphic Novel

The Marc Meyers script follows Backderf’s original graphic novel with surprising fidelity.               
“I was committed to adapting Derf’s tale as faithfully as possible. The author’s personal narrative is horrifyingly honest, and for me it was of utmost importance to maintain that candidness in my interpretation. I could relate to these characters. They reminded me of my own high school days growing up in a similar rural suburb as Akron, Ohio. Plus, the timeline of Jeff’s family life disintegrating around him oddly mirrored my own parents’ divorce during the end of my high school experience.” –Marc Meyers (Press Book)

It seems clear to me that Carla Meyer would make an extremely pedestrian filmmaker. Her films would be of the “paint-by-numbers” variety—mere trifles that tie up complicated problems with simple naïve solutions. Since when is it a filmmaker’s job to have all the answers to society’s complicated problems? Marc Meyers seems to know better. He simply finds these questions interesting and understands that they are important questions to ask in these times when High School life isn’t terribly different from prison life for certain students. Adolescent alienation is a huge problem with potentially severe consequences, but there are no clear solutions for it. The questions, however, are really rather important—and they are also extremely interesting. However, one can only become engaged in such a film if their expectations are kept in check. One should leave these expectations at the door and allow a film to take any course that it wants to take. Certain audiences have been disappointed—and even infuriated—by the fact that My Friend Dahmer doesn’t have a body count. The customer reviews for the film at Amazon is clear evidence of this. The following review was capitalized in its entirety and contained a number of misspellings. These issues have been corrected:

“This movie sucks. No killing was done. All it talked about was his high school life. No one cares about that. It was so hyped but it sucks.” –Laura

Apparently, “Laura” didn’t pay a lot of attention to the “hype,” because the marketing clearly indicated that the film focused on Dahmer’s formative adolescent years. Common sense would dictate that the film wouldn’t include the typical exploitive content. There are many such reviews scattered across the internet, and this reviewer finds them particularly nauseating. Shouldn’t Marc Meyers and John Backderf be praised for eschewing the obvious and exploitive approach taken by so many films in favor of a their more contemplative slant?

Exploitive 'Friendship'

This page from John “Derf” Backderf’s graphic novel hints at just how faithful the film version is to its original source.

One of the interesting things about this film is that it really doesn’t need the typical expository scenes that establish the situation. The audience already knows that Jeffrey Dahmer grew up to be one of the most notorious serial killers of all time. The filmmakers understand that this informs how the viewer will process the movie, so they can go about telling the tragic story of a young closeted adolescent that may very well resemble someone that the viewer knew in their formative years. In an odd way, Dahmer is an extremely sympathetic character in the film. If we didn’t already know that he became a brutal murderer in later years—and if he didn’t have an odd fascination for bones—this film would be processed much differently.

 Jeff is portrayed as a young man who wants desperately to connect with someone. He seems to have a slight chance of this early in the film when another homosexual boy invites him to attend a concert and he accepts. When the boy is later bullied in front of him, he becomes frightened and blows the date off. Unfortunately, this does not exclude him from being similarly bullied. This subtly shows that his hostile environment is keeping him from forming normal attachments. Like many other young outcasts, he begins showing off as a bid for attention. This comes in the form of mimicking the spastic ticks and slurred speech of his mother’s interior decorator (who has cerebral palsy) and faking epileptic fits.

Dahmer Lonley

Another panel from John “Derf” Backderf’s graphic novel.

This works in an odd way when John Backderf and his group of friends become amused with his shenanigans. They take him under their wing in a superficial way, but it soon becomes clear that they are not really his friends. They are laughing at him as much as with him and are exploiting his need for friendship for their own amusement. In an odd way, the Backderf character is the film’s biggest antagonist. He and his friends only push him deeper into the darkness. He didn’t single-handedly create a monster, but he exacerbated Dahmer’s ongoing problems.

In the midst of all of this, his family life isn’t at all nurturing. He seems to merely recede into the background as his parents fight. His mother clearly has mental health issues, and this only complicates the questions that so many critics seem to want answered so badly. Some questions have no answers. Would Jeffrey Dahmer have become a killer if he lived in an environment that allowed him to connect instead of being alienated by those around him?

How could any filmmaker honestly answer this with any real authority? There is simply no way to know. However, it is clear that things might have gone better if things had gone differently. Alienation and emotional abuse is mentally debilitating. This can be said without question. In an interview with John Backderf, he briefly discussed these issues:

“Everybody did everything wrong. My Friend Dahmer is, at its heart, a story about failure. Across-the-board failure. Particularly the adult world. Everybody, either through incompetence or indifference, just let this kid go. And it’s astonishing to me that nobody noticed or said they didn’t notice a thing… Everybody dropped the ball. And the result was a pile of bodies. And unfortunately, that seems to happen with regularity… Sixteen-year-olds are morons. I mean, that’s really the only way to describe it. I think when I approached this story, my initial decision was, [and] I have to just be brutally honest in telling this story. So I’ve just got to lay it out there, warts and all. I mean, there’s no defense for our sense of humor at age 16 back then. And I don’t try to make a defense for it. I just say, here it is. I don’t think that most people would be very comfortable with trying to explain their behavior at 16, either.” –John “Derf” Backderf (Interview with Abraham Riesman, Vulture, April 20, 2017)

Lack of Friends

Another page from John “Derf” Backderf’s graphic novel.

There is a lot in the film for the viewer to contemplate despite its lack of answers. Even so, one doesn’t wish to suggest that this is a perfect film. There are moments that don’t feel quite as authentic as others (particularly those that depict Dahmer’s family life), and one wishes that the boy that Jeff jilted earlier in the film could have been kept in the periphery of the story to a greater extent as a reminder that Jeff’s swallowed sexuality is constantly festering. It is true that his obsession with an older jogging doctor does this, but this is an inappropriate manifestation of these urges. It would be nice to have the more appropriate alternative that Dahmer rejects due to his fear of further ostracization and abuse to linger in the background throughout the entire duration (though one doesn’t wish for this to be too obvious). Such an approach would make his descent into darkness all the more tragic.

Having said this, none of the flaws bury the virtues of My Friend Dahmer. It is the film that Meyers intended to make, and is therefore a success. What’s more, it is impossible not to be impressed with the film’s tragic and perfectly rendered ending (which should please anyone with a detailed knowledge of Dahmer’s career as a serial killer). It is the only way the film could have ended.

One Sheet #2

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

FilmRise packages the disc in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring a slightly altered version of the film’s primary one sheet. We applaud the use of the film’s one sheet artwork, but the film had two other posters that are marginally more interesting. It is too bad that ‘Derf’ Backderf wasn’t engaged to design the one sheet using Ross Lynch’s visage instead of the design utilized in his graphic novel. It really seems like a missed opportunity. He probably could have come up with a simple yet intriguing image. In any case, the “faces of the actors” approach has grown tired. Marketing departments may want to take note of this.

The menus are what one might expect from a DVD disc as the chapters, audio options, and special features are given their own menu on separate screens. However, these are subtly animated utilizing footage from the film while the main menu features the same artwork used on the cover. The end result is reasonably attractive and intuitive to navigate.

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

My Friend Dahmer was shot on an Arri Alexa XT camera which shoots at a 3.2K resolution in the ProRes format. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer seems to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the original production footage. The image is quite sharp and detail often impresses—with a spike in quality during the exterior sequences, but there are anomalies evident such as aliasing throughout the film. These issues never really distract the viewer, but they do keep the transfer from rising to a more impressive level. The image is also a bit flat much of the time, and there will be those that dislike this aspect of the production photography.

Sound Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

It is a mystery as to why some Blu-ray discs still don’t provide a high definition audio track, but such is the case with this disc. Instead, FilmRise provides a lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital track and a 2.0 Dolby Digital mix. It isn’t a bad track, but lossy tracks on a Blu-ray disc usually feel like a cheat. Such tracks don’t take proper advantage of the format.

However, the film’s sound design isn’t exactly dynamic in any case, and the Dolby tracks provided do an adequate job of representing the film in any case. There are some nice separations throughout the film if one chooses the 5.1 mix even if they aren’t particularly showy. It’s a good enough mix to warrant 3 stars despite the fact that neither track is in high definition. Usually, such tracks wouldn’t earn more than two stars.

Special Features:

2 of 5 Stars

Interview with Ross Lynch – (03:06)

One wishes that more effort and thought had been expended for the supplemental featured on the disc, and this particular “interview” with Ross Lynch is a pretty good example of what one is referring to when they use the word “filler” when discussing supplemental features. It is little more than EPK fluff that does more to sell the film than to enlighten the viewer as to what went into the production. Ross does relate some interesting trivia (Example: They shot the film in the actual house where Dahmer grew up). However, there are so many topics that could have been discussed that aren’t. Does anyone really want to hear how all of the cast and crew did a fantastic job? Why are comprehensive documentaries so rare?

Theatrical Trailer – (02:27)

It is nice to see that the trailer has been included here as all discs should at the very least include the film’s original trailer.

Behind the Scenes Slide Show – (00:14)

The disc also features and image gallery in slide show form (only utilizing dissolves rather than straight cuts) that feature a number of ‘behind the scenes’ stills. This is really the only ‘behind the scenes’ material offered in the entire package.

One Sheet

Final Words:

Those with an aversion to deliberately paced films or ambiguity may become agitated while watching My Friend Dahmer, but the very aspects of the film that will irritate these viewers should please certain audiences. Luckily, this Blu-ray edition of the film should only enhance one’s enjoyment as it carries a relatively good image transfer. Some will lament the lack of a high definition audio mix, but the standard definition options really aren’t that bad (especially for a film as quiet as this one). If all of this suits your personal tastes, we recommend that you indulge.

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