Published May 04, 2012Because there is such an appalling specificity to Jeffrey Dahmer's signature mutilations and grotesque brutality, it's not surprising that 20 years after the fact, people remain curious. Other serial killers have racked up similar body counts, but Dahmer's seemingly run-of-the-mill façade made the extent of his perversions a shocking contrast.
Filmmaker Chris James Thompson's documentary, Jeff, focuses on the idea that Dahmer's low-profile is what allowed him to carry out so many gruesome acts under the noses of his neighbours and the police without raising suspicions. Thompson incorporates a blend of actor re-enactments and archival news footage with present-day interviews with lead detective Pat Kennedy, as well as Jeffrey Jentzen, the medical examiner, and Dahmer's neighbour at the time of his arrest, Pamela Bass.
It's these interviews that give substance to this thematically distressing documentary, providing personal insight and emotion about a case known mostly for grisly signifiers. Interesting factoids arise, like the fact that Dahmer's infamous striped shirt worn in court originally belonged to Pat Kennedy's son, as well as his personal life, which Bass sheds some light on, describing her visits with him and speculating about the contents of a sandwich he fed her.
Unfortunately, these compelling interviews are broken up by stale, often clumsy re-enactments of Dahmer going about his daily serial killer, flesh eating life. Their Rescue 911 dynamic leads us to believe that anyone who came in contact with Jeffrey would look at him suspiciously, with their head cocked to the side staring – something we all do when we see a stranger enter a hotel room or purchase a garbage can at a hardware store.
The filmmaker does go to great lengths to make the sets look authentic, adjusting the wardrobes and set designs, but seeing present-day cars and magazines featuring Jennifer Aniston is slightly distracting. Similarly, the occasional behind-the-camera whispering from the director trying to guide his actor destroys scenes that were intended to be intense.
Had this experimental doc of sorts focused on the interview aspect, this chilling look at the banality leading up to Dahmer's conviction would have been unyielding. The interview subjects had a story to tell but it seems they were cut short and never given a chance to evolve for fear of modifying the template of making the serial killer somewhat tangible. (DBA)