Birthed from the demented minds of Ryan Murphy, the man behind series like “American Horror Story” and “American Crime Story”, and the creator of the Netflix psychological thriller “Ratched” and “Glee” comes a story of violence and desire. The story of one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. This is the story of the Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer.
Now, the last on-screen portrayal of Dahmer was in 2017’s film “My Friend Dahmer” based on a graphic novel by John “Derf” Backderf, who knew Dahmer personally as a friend. It was a heartbreaking, hilarious and surreal peek into his teenage life and how it would eventually lead him down a very, very dark path. A praise-worthy biopic for sure but one that was more concerned with Dahmer’s origins and his relationship with Derf, which means it never exactly delved into the many atrocities he did.
This is where “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer” comes in. The full Netflix treatment of Dahmer’s killing spree through the perspectives of his victims, all brought to life by a talented cast of actors. The question is: will the series do justice to gruesome reality? Let’s find out!
The plot of the series mainly follows the story of Dahmer’s various victims and they were caught in his web before ending up in his refrigerator. It also follows the story of Dahmer’s neighbour in his apartments named Glenda who slowly begins to uncover the mystery surrounding the young man. She sees people come in…but they never leave. Similarly to another show by Murphy, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”, this series starts near the end of Dahmer’s career as a serial killer before working its work back to the details of what led him down this road.
Interestingly enough, just like the story of Andrew Cunanan, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” also explores the failures of the justice system in identifying Dahmer throughout his many active years of hunting young men. The fact that most of the victims were homosexual men also played a role in their reluctance to look into these cases. Subjects of systemic racism and sexual discrimination are heavily present throughout the series. It’s an angle of the Dahmer story that we haven’t seen before, one that addresses how his white privilege allowed him to mostly slip under the radar. More disturbingly, we see how the backdrop of racism in America enabled him to target gay men of colour.
While Murphy and Brennan’s commitment to telling the stories of sexual and racial minorities at the hands of Dahmer comes from a good place, it is not without issue. Namely that it feels like it overextends in its scope. When the series focuses on Glenda’s struggle and Dahmer’s victims, it is at its most emotionally engaging and thrilling. Episodes like “Cassandra” had our hair standing on the back of our necks as we see Glenda having to confront Dahmer in the most uncomfortable way possible. Then there are ones like “Lionel” in which we follow the lives of Lionel and Joyce Dahmer trying to make peace with the actions of their son.
Look, we get that the case of Jeffrey Dahmer is a macabre and horrifying one but to place him as a lightning rod of controversy to critique intersectional societal woes is asking too much from the source material. That being said, the series’ exploration into Dahmer’s born-again Christian faith post-arrest and his newfound ego in the face of the public limelight. It avoids romanticising the character while still doing justice to his humanity and vanity as well. Aspects that are too often buried under the shock and awe of his crimes.
The series is split up into ten episodes with each one running for about 50-minutes. Overall, while some of the subplots border on tangential, if not indulgent, “Monster: The Dahmer Story” does make full use of its runtime. The pacing does at times dip into monotony but it’s quickly brought back up thanks to some great performances.
American Horror Story veteran and Quicksilver actor, Evan Peters does a phenomenal job in his portrayal of the glass-eyed serial killer. Peters’ portrayal of Dahmer isn’t a toned down, romanticised version of the character that fits with the actor’s good looks and charisma. Oh no, Peters fully dedicates himself to inhabiting the twisted, demented world mind of his real-life counterpart. He nails Dahmer’s low voice and awkward demeanour while also injecting a cold, unsettling menace to the man absent from the more sympathetic portrait of the man in “My Friend Dahmer”. For the gaps in between the horrors unseen but heard, Peters doesn’t shy away from showing us the killer’s perverse pleasure and bloodlust after each kill. Murphy and Brennan’s visceral, if not slightly unnerving, direction for the character deserves praise!
Niecy Nash plays a fantastic foil to Peter’s Dahmer. As she begins to slowly piece together the horrors occurring within the Oxford Apartments, she perfectly captures the creeping dread and horror we’d feel in that situation. She doesn’t start as some cliched brave crusader snooping about for cannibal necrophiliacs. Nash brings a quiet dignity that hides a stony, maternal resolve to bring Dahmer to justice. The series does a great job of playing on the conflict between her fear of Dahmer and her disillusionment with the police against her righteous sense of duty. Seeing her journey to justice is altogether riveting, heart-breaking and ultimately cathartic!
Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” leaves no stone unturned in their dramatic telling of one of America’s most infamous serial killers. This is in no small part due to the legendary performance by Evan Peters, whose role as the titular Jeffrey Dahmer eclipses some of the weaker elements of the series. An absolute must-see for true-crime lovers and thrill seekers! We’re sincerely hoping that Murphy and Brennan will consider making “Monster” into an anthology series. They should totally do the satanic Son of Sam or the UK’s most prolific paedophile, Jimmy Savile.
You can now catch “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” on Netflix today!
Netflix's "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" Review
Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan's "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" leaves no stone unturned in their dramatic telling of one of America's most infamous serial killers. This is in no small part due to the legendary performance by Evan Peters, whose role as the titular Jeffrey Dahmer eclipses some of the weaker elements of the series. An absolute must-see for true-crime lovers and thrill seekers!
- Netflix's "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" Review