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David Jacobson's 2002 film Dahmer is an atypical serial killer picture. Part biography, part character study, it's a genuinely interesting and well-made film that dabbles in equal parts horror and drama. A disclaimer before the film starts notes that the film was inspired by events from his life and that certain characters in it are fictional, so it's clear that director David Jacobson and his co-writer, David Birke, weren't necessarily striving for 100% accuracy with this project, but the movie still works very well indeed.
Early in the film, Jeffrey Dahmer (Jeremy Renner) is in a department store where he spots a young man named Khamtay (Dionysio Basco) looking at some shoes. Dahmer offers to buy them for him in exchange for his coming over to his house and posing for a few pictures for him. It's an odd offer, but he obliges. Dahmer takes him home, drugs him, strips him and then drills a hole in his head before placing his body next to the corpse in his bed. Khamtay, however, manages to escape, wandering dazed and confused through the streets of Milwaukee until two young black women come across him. The cops are called, and the women as sent on their way, their claims of concern dismissed by the white cops when they talk to the otherwise calm, collected and white Dahmer who has come to bring his ‘drunk friend' back in out of the cold.
From here the movie bounces around between events in Dahmer's life. We see his disappointment and anger when his parents split up. We witness how upset his grandmother (Kate Williamson) and father (Bruce Davison) are when she finds a headless mannequin in his closet. Much of the film's running time is taken up by portraying the relationship between Dahmer and Rodney (Artel Great), a young black man that Dahmer meets at a knife shop. Rodney introduces him to the gay bar circuit where Dahmer, flying solo, drugs various men before getting caught and subsequently beaten up for his actions. Dahmer also has a relationship of sorts with a high school wrestler named Lance Bell (Matt Newton).
The film does an excellent job of building Dahmer's character, portraying his struggles with his own homosexuality and his issues with his home life. The movie never delves into his childhood, per se, but we do see him through a party when his mother and her new boyfriend leave him alone for the first time, a party that the younger Dahmer seems surprisingly uninterested in even as it unfolds around him in his living room. Jacobson and company seem more interesting in mood or tone than they do a conventional narrative and that being the case, they accomplish a lot in that regard. The movie has a decidedly unseemly vibe to it. It isn't a particularly gory film, in fact, when you consider how far it could have gone in many ways it feels remarkably restrained, but there is a serious air of menace throughout the bulk of its running time.
Performances are good. Artel Great (credited in the film as Artel Kayaru in the film) is likeable as the quirky Rodyney, out for a good time and maybe not the most honest guy in the world, though someone who seems to develop a genuine affection for the predator that he's so blissfully unaware is right at his back. Newton's performance is similarly effective, particularly in a scene that he and Renner share late in the film where, stoned, they debate the merits of rebelliousness as it pertains to heterosexuality. Kate Williamson is good as the grandmother, though she isn't in the movie much, while Bruce Davison does fine work as the elder Dahmer man. Really though, this is Jeremy Renner's show, and he does a great job with it. Made up as he is in this picture, he bears a pretty strong resemblance to the real Jeffrey Dahmer. He plays the part cautiously and carefully, delivering an understated turn that humanizes the monster that Dahmer was without ever asking us to pity him.
Dahmer arrives on a 50GB region free Blu-ray disc from the MVD Rewind Collection with the feature presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen taking up 23.2GBs of space on the disc. There's some frame specific damage here and there, the image is less than pristine, but it shows pretty solid detail. The transfer preserves the movie's grainy aesthetic and is all the better for it, this is a very film-like picture. Depth and texture are quite good and while the film's color scheme is generally on the bleaker side of things, it is reproduced well here. There are no problems with any noticeable compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction problems. Overall, this looks quite good.
The main audio track on the disc is an English language 16-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. A 16-bit LPCM 2.0 Stereo mix is also provided. The 2.0 track sounded a bit stronger to my ears, with the 5.1 track not having a lot of power behind it, though occasionally spreading out the score effectively enough. The 2.0 mix sounds stronger, with clearer dialogue. Both tracks are balanced pretty well and free of any hiss or distortion. Subtitles are offered in English and Spanish, although the English subtitles have some occasional synch issues and more than a few typos as well.
The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary with director David Jacobson and actors Jeremy Renner and Artel Kayaru. Jacobson notes that these are the two greatest actors ever before then discussing the film's original working title (‘The Mind Is A Place Of Its Own') and why marketing put a stop to that idea, the difficulty of finding a chocolate factory that will let you shoot a movie inside of it, the makeup and facial hair appliances that Renner had to wear throughout the movie, research that Jacobson did to try and get the lobotomy scene done properly, parallels Renner saw between Dahmer and himself as far as personal intimacy was concerned, the intensity that Renner brings to the role, the intended look of the movie, what it was like working with Bruce Davison, shooting the ‘Saran wrapped' head scene and why it was shot the way it was shot, the deliberate structure of the film, how and why Renner decide to smoke the way he does in the movie, the different drafts that the script went through and changes that were made to the script along the way, how and why the skeleton appears in Dahmer's apartment when it does, some of the places where the script takes liberties and some of the facts that made their way into the script, having to reconstruct Dahmer's apartment and lots, lots more. It's a very active track, and sometimes quite humorous, definitely worth listening to.
MVD also provide a sixteen-minute archival making of featurette. This piece is made up of interviews with David Jacobson, producer Larry Rattner, editor Bipasha Shom, director of photography Chris Manley, lead actor Jeremy Renner, actor Artel Kayaru, and composers Mariana Bernoski and Christina Amamanolis as well as some clips from the movie and some behind the scenes footage. The featurette piece covers the origins of the project, what the filmmakers were trying to with the project, how and why Dahmer's story was presented in the manner that it is and without much of a backstory, attempts to make the mundane things seem frightening and vice versa, what it was like bringing Dahmer to life, the deliberate look and sound mix used in the film, locations and quite a bit more.
Finishing up the extras are two trailers for the feature (in addition to bonus trailers for Eye See You, Possession, Shade and Sukiyaki Western Django) as well as a still gallery and a storyboard gallery. Menus and chapter selection are also provided and, as far as the packaging goes, MVD offers up a slipcover with this release.
Dahmer is a very well-made picture, a disturbing but though provoking character study or sorts expertly acted by its lead and nicely put together by its crew. The MVD Marquee Collection has done a very nice job bringing this underrated picture to Blu-ray, presenting it in a nice transfer and with some decent extra features as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.