The recently released Netflix series "Mindhunter" follows a team of FBI agents in the 1970's as they embark on the early stages of criminal profiling, traveling the country to interview serial killers about their past history in an attempt to see what makes them tick. "My Friend Dahmer" goes a step further, dramatizing the teen years of Jeffrey Dahmer, just before he took a turn for the homicidal.
As played by Ross Lynch, Dahmer is an isolated loner with a hangdog expression, stoop-shouldered posture, and shuffling gait. He's lonely, struggling with his sexuality, and an unhappy home life due to his neglectful, constantly bickering parents (Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts). He finds happiness collecting roadkill, which he takes back to a little shack in the woods to perform experiments on because he's fascinated by what's inside.
"My Friend Dahmer" is based on the graphic novel memoir by Derf Backderf (played in the film by Alex Wolff), who briefly formed a friendship with the soon-to-be-infamous killer during their senior year of high school. Derf and his buddies adopt Dahmer as their "mascot," getting him to perform various pranks for their amusement. Eager for any kind of acceptance, he does what the boys ask, until they start to understand that he's more damaged than they could have imagined.
It would have been easy to turn this material into pure exploitation, but director Marc Meyers aims for something possibly even more unsettling. He delivers an empathetic character study, asking his audience to understand and find the humanity in a man most people would call a monster.