This week Netflix debuts its new limited series DAHMER Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmersuper producer Ryan Murphy’s latest project casting his longtime collaborator Evan Peters in the titular role as the infamous gay serial killer.
The announcement of the project was received with a mix of excitement – it is is doing star icon Niecy Nash finally – and trepidation. While, yes, the series claims to center Dahmer’s “disadvantaged victims and their communities,” it still begs the question: How often does Hollywood have to re-examine and relive the story of this convicted murderer and cannibal?
Prior to Peters, the infamous role was played by a number of actors, including Ross Lynch in the disturbing “origin story” My friend Dahmer. But one of the earliest and most striking portraits of the killer was that of 2002 Dahmer by filmmaker David Jacobson, which starred Jeremy Renner in an early star turn.
Well sooner The Avengers or his Oscar-nominated role in The hurt locker, the independent film marked a big break for Renner, 31 at the time of its release. The dark, demanding feature film was a big risk to the young actor who was largely unknown at the time, but it certainly paid off given the successful career he’s had since.
Given the subject matter, it’s not surprising that the 20-year-old movie is a tough watch. DahmerThe big hook was that it offered a peek into the mind of a madman, and Racer’s performance admirably pushes the line between scaring him and sympathizing with him — or at least understanding what made him so. The film was mainly inspired by statements made by Dahmer’s father, Lionel, who claimed that his son “killed those boys because he was too afraid to lose them.”
Each scene is fraught with fear and suspense, especially when Dahmer lures a young gay man named Rodney (Artel Great) back to his home. Despite his shocking actions, Renner never lets you forget that there is a human underneath the monster, for better or for worse.
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At the time, the film was largely well-reviewed by critics (it ranks at 73% on Rotten tomatoes ) who praised Jacobson’s thoughtful approach to the potentially eerie material. Weekly entertainment‘s Owen Gleiberman noted that: Dahmer “let yourself go against the humanity of a psychopath without making him less psychotic.”
But others found the biopic unnecessarily bleak and downright pointless, such as: The Seattle TimesMoira Macdonald, who described it as “a hellish, numbing experience” that “provides no insights that have not yet been thoroughly debated in the media.”
In hindsight, it’s hard to disagree with Macdonald. The film traps viewers in Dahmer’s relentless perspective, barely acknowledging the inner self of a victim like Rodney. And scenes where Dahmer runs into cops only feel included for the superficial “I can’t believe he got away with it” shock value, failing to question his privilege as a cis-white man, who allowed his killing spree only to Get on. Difficulty justifying its own existence, the film plays like mere trauma porn.
Related: How Ryan Murphy Became a Hollywood Power Broker by Mainstreaming Gays
Murphy seems intent on correcting these mistakes in his… DAHMER Netflix series (which counts Janet Mock and Rashad Robinson of Color For Change among its producers), but revisiting the 02 movie only underscores how the depressing details of this true crime story have been told over and over again. You just have to watch the trailers for both projects to see that they recreate some of the exact same scenes.
If there’s a reason to watch Dahmer in 2022, it’s Renner’s fascinating early performance that earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination. He has spent the twenty years since switching back and forth between blockbusters (the aforementioned avengerstwo Mission Impossible movies, and even the failed ones Bourne .’s Legacy spin-off) and more serious prices far (The city, American crowds), showing that he is a capable, multidimensional talent.
But in many ways the shadow of Dahmer still hangs over his career. There’s even the fact of those persistent rumors that Renner is gay, which seem to have started around the time he took on this role. Like the movie itself, they’re a product of their time, and Renner has since dismissed them as “dumb” and judgmental: “In the end, I don’t care if people want to think, read, and care about that.”
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Will Peters’ performance emerge as a more thoughtful portrayal of the systems by which a man could become a monster? Or will Renner’s work in the daunting, demanding Dahmer loom big over Murphy’s new limited series? We’ll know soon enough when DAHMER Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer premieres on Netflix on September 21.
Dahmer (2002) is now available to stream on Fubo.TV, The Roku Channel, Vudu, Tubi, Kanopy and Crackle. It is also available to rent or stream via YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play. You can watch the trailer below: