Dahmer is a 2002 American biographical horror film directed by David Jacobson and starring Jeremy Renner and Bruce Davison. Renner plays American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, a mentally-unstable recluse in Wisconsin who kidnaps, rapes, and murders multiple men.
There are two timelines in the film: The "present" of the film runs in ordinary chronological order covering the period of one-to-two days; the flashbacks go in reverse order, so that Dahmer is seen as successively younger until the film arrives at his first murder and its aftermath.
Jeffrey Dahmer (Jeremy Renner) is a shy and socially awkward factory worker in metropolitan Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Troubled by a turbulent childhood and his religious father's denial of his homosexuality, Dahmer begins luring attractive young men to his home, where he conducts experiments on his victims before he murders them, trying to create a living zombie.
Flashback scenes from Dahmer's earlier life reveal that he killed one man this way in Bath, Ohio when he was a teenager. They also reveal his troubled relationship with his father, and Jeffrey's alcoholism. In the present, he rationalizes his crimes in Milwaukie over the divorce of his parents and his emotionally isolated childhood; nevertheless, he can't stop inviting more and more young men from bars and clubs to his home, where he successively kills them.
Jeffrey meets a young man named Rodney and invites him to his house with plans of murdering him, but as the night goes on and the conversations get more personal Jeffrey is faced with an emotional crisis. Rodney confesses his romantic feelings for Jeffrey, but finds him evasive. During the course of their evening together, Jeffrey strangles him with a belt until he loses consciousness; however, Rodney survives, and escapes the apartment. The film ends with a flashback to Jeffrey as a teenager, riding in a car with his father on the way to a therapy session, cross-cut with a scene in which he dissects one of his victims on his bed.
The real-life counterpart to the fictional victim is in parentheses
Jeremy Renner as Jeffrey Dahmer
Bruce Davison as Lionel Dahmer
Artel Kayàru as Rodney (Tracy Edwards)
Matt Newton as Lance Bell (Stephen Hicks)
Dion Basco as Khamtay (Konerak Sinthasomphone)
Kate Williamson as Grandma Dahmer
Christian Payano as Letitia
Tom'ya Bowden as Shawna
Sean Blakemore as Corliss
Although the script recreates actual events, the names are changed out of respect for Dahmer's victims. In reality, the escapee who led to Dahmer's capture was Tracy Edwards, portrayed by Artel Kayàru as Rodney, and Dahmer's first victim was a man named Stephen Hicks, portrayed in the film by Matt Newton as Lance Bell. Production took place in Los Angeles and one scene in Milwaukee. The mask special effects were created by Christien Tinsley and Kelley Mitchell, who were involved two years later in the makeup of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
Dahmer has received mostly mixed to positive reviews. It currently holds a 68% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Stephen Holden of The New York Times gave the film a mixed review, praising Renner's performance and the supporting performances, but said the film "falls headlong into the trap of imagining that it can somehow rationalize the monstrous." Carla Meyer of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film a middling review, writing: "Filmmaker David Jacobson doesn't seem to know where to go with his version. He approaches crass exploitation by juxtaposing scenes of carnage with shots of chocolate spilling into a vat (Dahmer worked in a candy factory). Other moments carry real suspense and emotional weight." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly praised Renner's performance writing that he "imbues Jeffrey Dahmer with a very solemn desolation that looks just enough like ”normal” pain to let you in on the way that this repressed, lonely freak could pass himself off as just another sad-eyed outcast."
Shawn Levy of The Oregonian gave the film a positive review, noting: "Writer-director David Jacobson and his star, Jeremy Renner, have made a remarkable film that explores the monster's psychology not in order to excuse him but rather to demonstrate that his pathology evolved from human impulses that grew hideously twisted."
Kathryn Bigelow said that she cast Renner in The Hurt Locker because of his performance in Dahmer.Independent Spirit Award - Jeremy Renner (Best Male Actor in a Leading Role) (nominated)
Independent Spirit Award - Artel Kayàru (Best Newcomer) (nominated)
John Cassavetes Award - Larry Ratner and David Jacobson (nominated)