In a recent review for Cold Light of Day, I was given a closer look at the life of a fellow who is often referred to as the “English Jeffrey Dahmer” for more reasons than one. That particular film had a gritty aesthetic that put one in the mindset to explore the dark and twisty soul of a notorious serial killer, but it failed to live up to its potential thanks to the lack of characterization given to both the murderer in question as well as the victims. I once again dip my toe into the sadistic world of murder with the 2002 feature Dahmer, which gives the narrative treatment to one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. Long before he was assembling with the Avengers in his portrayal of Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner was a relative newcomer who scored one of his first major breaks as the titular serial killer. His nuanced performance earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination, but more importantly put him on the radar of people like Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) that launched him to the star we know today. As we close in on nearly twenty years since this breakout role, it is time we take a closer at it. 

Dahmer proves to be much more compelling in almost every way when compared to Cold Light of Day, not least of all thanks to the impeccable performance from Renner. The film embarks on dual timelines to give us a more complete picture of who Jeffrey Dahmer was and offers theories as to why he may have been this way. In the “present” day, Jeffrey is a quiet loner who works at a local chocolate factory in Milwaukee by day and indulges in his worst impulses by night. By this time, Jeffrey has already killed multiple people and has some corpses stored in his apartment. Our first glimpse of Jeffrey in predator mode comes when he stalks one unlucky victim at the mall. If there is any aspect where the film really falters, it is in a few key supporting roles where the performers just cannot seem to act naturally. This is the case with this latest victim (Dionysio Basco), who makes an already suspect situation seem all the more implausible. Thankfully, Renner is a big enough presence to overshadow these missteps as he injects a quiet dread into each scene. 

In an earlier timeline, we follow a younger Jeffrey in reverse chronological order that showcases the isolation he felt with his peers and family until we arrive at the point where he committed his first murder. While the film does shine a spotlight on possible reasons Jeffrey got to the point of killing people, it never quite goes overboard in trying to make you sympathize with a murderer. You do feel bad for him and how he is struggling with his sexuality, among other things, but the film does not allow you to forget how much of a monster he would become. Bruce Davison gives a remarkable performance as Jeffrey’s dad, who has a fraught relationship with his son due to religious beliefs. Renner brings a special quality to his portrayal during this timeline that makes it stand apart from what he is doing in the present. The scenes in the present feature more visceral killing, but the tension featured in the homelife is almost more squirm inducing in some respects. 

From what little I have gathered, Dahmer may not always be beholden to the facts, but a warning at the beginning of the film allows you to feel that the creative team is at least staying close to the spirit of the story. Jeffrey’s final intended victim Rodney (Artel Kayàru) may not have been as big of a character as he is in the film, but he at least gives his character some much-needed depth that was lacking in Cold Light of Day. His effervescence works to throw Jeffrey off balance and stir up some important facets of his personality. A detour to a gay bar leads to recollections of Jeffrey in predator mode back in the day that are chill-inducing. Those who watch Dahmer may come away feeling slightly icky by the time things are all said and done, but Renner delivers a performance you will not soon forget. It is fair to say his performance is better than the movie he inhabits; there are choices made in the course of this film that highlight the inexperience of first-time writer-director David Jacobson. Nevertheless, thanks to an air of menace and ambiguity, along with a knockout performance by Renner, Dahmer remains an effective analysis of one of the most famous serial killers around. 

Video Quality

Dahmer finally makes its Blu-Ray debut via the MVD Marquee Collection with a 1080p transfer sourced from a 4K master struck from the original camera negative. The results are largely quite pleasing and organically filmic, but there are moments that look a bit rough. From shot to shot the film can look either incredibly clear and detailed or soft and muddy. The transfer is naturally filmic with some decent detail in the production design and texture of clothing. Colors do not particularly make an impression, appearing a bit washed out at points, which appears in line with the intended visual aesthetic. The black levels are passable in their depth. There is some recurring print damage present in the transfer that is hard to ignore. It is readily apparent that you are watching an HD transfer, but do not expect to witness a presentation that looks like it was made yesterday. This is the best that the film has ever looked on home entertainment, but the quality of the source material keeps this from being a 5-star knockout. 

Audio Quality

MVD Visual brings us this new Blu-Ray with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that beautifully reproduces the film sonically. The dialogue holds up very nicely, coming though clearly without being stepped on by the music or sound effects. The environmental effects are delineated nicely from the hustle and bustle of the gay club or the machinery in the chocolate factory. The rear speakers create a casually enveloping soundscape that helps draw you into this sinister world. The low end of the track gets a bit of a workout in certain environments, such as the thumping bass in the club where Dahmer preys on many men. This is a track that represents the film in a very satisfying way. Optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles are provided on this disc.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Director David Jacobson and actors Jeremy Renner and Artel Kayàru give an interesting and energetic commentary track in which the participants share interesting anecdotes from the production in the film including hiding the fact that they were filming a Dahmer movie in the community where the real-life Dahmer lived. Worth a listen if you are a fan of the movie. 
  • Featurette: A sixteen-minute piece in which the cast and crew discuss the project including deciding what they wanted to accomplish with this story, the character traits in the film, establishing the look for the film, exploring the inner-workings of Dahmer and more. There are some good insights into the film provided here. 
  • Stills Gallery: A collection of images from the production of the film are provided here. 
  • Storyboards Gallery: A collection of rough outlines and sketches of scenes are provided here. 
  • Trailers: Both the Theatrical and Red Band trailers for Dahmer are included here. There are also trailers for other films in the MVD Marquee Collection including Eye See You, Possession, Shade and Sukiyaki Western Django

 

Final Thoughts

Dahmer delivers a very disturbing story that does not shy away from brutality while attempting to dive a bit deeper into the psychology of this disturbed man. Jeremy Renner gives a truly chilling performance that shows early signs of the greatness to come. MVD Entertainment has given this film its Blu-Ray debut that sports a strong A/V presentation and some worthwhile special features. If you appreciate an artful take on a vicious serial killer, this one is worth a look. Recommended 

Dahmer is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: MVD Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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