'Dahmer': Gruesome then, gruesome now

Good actors toil away at a hideous task in "Dahmer," and it's not their fault that they don't succeed.

That task is to humanize a monstrous serial killer, which writer/director David Jacobson does by showing us that young Jeffrey Dahmer was neglected by his father and misunderstood by all.

Jacobson also shows us erotically lit scenes of Dahmer drugging and raping his victims, and of the killer sawing off the limbs of a young man, complete with sound effects. It's a hellish, numbing experience to watch, and it doesn't offer any insights that haven't been thoroughly debated in the media already, back in the Dahmer heyday of the mid-'90s.

Those still creepily fascinated by the Dahmer story (and surely there are better hobbies) may nonetheless be intrigued by this film, told as a series of nonlinear scenes "inspired by events" from Dahmer's life.

Jeremy Renner, as the title character, has a grim stillness — he even talks without opening his mouth too much. It's a fine, careful performance from an obviously skilled actor who effortlessly conveys Dahmer at different ages (quizzical as a young man, hardened as an adult).

Bruce Davison contributes a fine mini-portrait as Dahmer's distant but affable dad, but doesn't have too many scenes; Artel Kayàru is charismatic as a talkative victim.

Ultimately, though, "Dahmer" offers little reason to understand why anyone would want to retell this story — and why anyone would want to watch it.


With Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Kayru, Dion Basco, Matt Newton. Written and directed by David Jacobson. 102 minutes. Rated R for aberrant violence, sexuality, language, and some drug use. Varsity.