By Bob Grimm
Watching Netflix’s 10-episode story of Jeffrey Dahmer—as told through the guiding eyes of producer-creator Ryan Murphy and directors like Carl Franklin (One False Move) and Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena)—is no party. Of course, it shouldn’t be.
It’s a depressing experience taking in Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, a show that aims to realistically portrary Dahmer, his victims and his family in a way that isn’t sensationalistic or crude. For the most part, the show succeeds, due to an able and willing cast that approaches the material in a manner that rings true, even at the saddest and most horrifying moments.
Evan Peters embodies a chilling, haunting Dahmer, a half-mumbling, lost man almost constantly in some sort of haze—and clearly sick in his head. While Peters’ performance is certainly horrific, he never depicts Dahmer as a horror-movie slasher villain. Peters goes to the core to find what made this sick man do what he did.
Dahmer, of course, must’ve had some sort of fake charm to lead 17 young men to their graves, and Peters makes the risky choice to portray Dahmer as a flawed human—a monstrous, flawed human—who wasn’t exactly deplorable when someone first met him. That, of course, changed once he got his victims back to his home, where he became deranged. The show is frighteningly effective at depicting this.
The series covers Dahmer from childhood until his death. It’s an exhausting experience getting to the moment when he breathes his last breath on a prison-gym floor. Peters, somehow, makes it worth watching.
Richard Jenkins is excellent as Dahmer’s anxiety- and guilt-ridden father, who chooses to write a book on how to help parents not wind up raising a serial killer, or something like that. (Lionel Dahmer’s motivations were always questionable on that front.) Penelope Ann Miller portrays Dahmer’s birth mom as a screaming mess, in what might be the film’s most caricature-like performance, while Molly Ringwald does decent, understated work as Dahmer’s stepmom.
Niecy Nash (Reno 911!) does a solid job as Glenda Cleveland, Dahmer’s long-suffering neighbor who tried desperately to get authorities to act on what she correctly suspected was happening in the awful-smelling apartment next door. Rodney Burford is heartbreaking as Dahmer victim Tony Hughes, a deaf man who is the focus of the entire sixth episode. Shaun J. Brown delivers strong work as Tracy Edwards, Dahmer’s last intended victim—the man who got him caught.
As a Netflix series, Dahmer-Monster doesn’t have a standard movie-type rating, but consider it a very hard R due to the thoroughly disturbing subject matter and gore. It’s not overly bloody, but when it goes there, it certainly goes there. When you are making a show about a guy who occasionally ate his victims, you are not looking at TV fit for family viewing.
Even though five different directors handle the 10 episodes, there’s a consistency to this show’s look and feel—and, honesty, there isn’t a single moment of joy in this show.
It’s a rough 10-episode experience—a messed-up but realistic depiction of one of history’s most messed-up people. You’ve been warned: This show is well-done, but you won’t want to rewatch it once you finish.
Now that I am done writing about it, it’ll hopefully soon be out of my system. Time to go play with the dog.
Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is now streaming on Netflix.