Considering the morbid fascination that Jeffrey Dahmer's case inspired, a biopic was probably inevitable. Thankfully, writer-director David Jacobson has interests beyond bloody exploitation. A powerful cross between the grindhouse neo-realism of Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and the unexpected trailer-park lyricism of Boys Don't Cry, Dahmer uses the serial killer's life as the starting point for a hypnotic examination of the farthest reaches of loneliness and alienation. As played by relative unknown Jeremy Renner, Dahmer emerges as a man capable of both unspeakable violence and shocking tenderness, an eternal adolescent whose slouch and awkward demeanor help hide the unthinkable rage percolating inside. Unfolding in a series of tense, dread-soaked vignettes, Dahmer follows Renner as he picks up a handful of victims who both attract and repulse him, including a teen wrestler, a skeptical Asian-American, and a fast-talking, sweet-natured black queen (Artel Kayaru, in a shattering debut). Bruce Davison turns in a similarly powerful performance as Renner's well-meaning but tragically unsuspecting father, but the film's real star may be the Milwaukee settings. Like Chris Smith's American Job, Dahmer effectively depicts the underside of working-class Milwaukee. From the antiseptic, humming chocolate factory where Renner works to the seedy nightclub where he picks up his victims, Jacobson succeeds in creating an atmosphere of low-key but unrelenting dread. The film parcels out its violence sparingly, instead relying on intimate long takes and the subtle, quicksilver shifts in Renner's finely modulated performance to build suspense. Brilliantly shot by cinematographer Chris Manley, Dahmer uncovers the man behind the monster, understanding that the underlying humanity, not the horrific violence, is what makes its protagonist terrifying.

Advertisement