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The Jeffrey Dahmer Files

2012 | 76 min | R | 1.85:1

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files


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Theatrical release date

 15 February, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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The Jeffrey Dahmer Files Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 27, 2013

Considering the wealth of news coverage surrounding the activities of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, it appears there’s little left to be learned about the man and his unnervingly calm modus operandi. “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” doesn’t add anything to the conversation outside of a few psychological dimensions that have recently come to light, with co-writer/director Chris James Thompson making more of an art piece crossed with a network news magazine show. Taking on the incredible details of the gruesome case and its aftermath, Thompson accepts quite a burden of informational responsibility, only to generate an aimless, tedious picture that’s part documentary, part re-creation, and mostly unenlightening.

Between 1978 and 1991, Milwaukee resident Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 men and boys, using their bodies for acts of cannibalism and necrophilia, turning his apartment into chamber of evil that rocked the city when he was eventually arrested for his considerable crimes. “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” isn’t a blow-by-blow investigation into the specifics of the horrific case, but a mood piece starring Andrew Swant as the killer, following his routine of drinking, purchasing, and staring as the recluse went about his daily business, slowly but surely assembling his macabre science experiment. Since Dahmer was beaten to death in prison in 1994, perspective on the case is contributed by medical examiner Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen, Detective Pat Kennedy, and neighbor Pamela Bass. Offering intimate thoughts on the man’s handiwork and disposition, the three provide memories of the aftermath of the vile apartment discovery (starting with a fresh severed head in the refrigerator), shedding light on Dahmer’s deceiving personality and his odd complacency during the investigation.

Thompson doesn’t have an angle to play here beyond one of time, catching up with three participants in the world of Dahmer two decades after the unholy mess was exposed. With concentration divided between drama and documentary, nothing in “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” is allowed to gather momentum, failing to peel layers to help understand the killer’s motives and personality. Thompson works in some symbolism involving fish tanks and piranha, but substance is sorely lacking from the recreations, most following the mundane activities of Dahmer as he purchases bleach (requesting a box after a plastic bag mishap on the bus), buys a giant blue barrel, and visits a Gay Pride Parade in Chicago. Without any perceptible budget and attention to detail (Thompson is dressed as 1991 Dahmer stumbling around a clearly 2011 world), the dramatic passages of the effort almost come off as comedy, with Swant electing to play the ghoul sleepy instead of insular. Extended takes register as cheap filler for the 75-minute-long movie, unable to generate the unease the director is searching for with his brooding synth score and Super 16 cinematography (that the film isn’t shot in HD is truly a blessing).

“The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” is more confident as an episode of “Dateline,” walking the participants around memories surrounding the case and arrest, allowing those who were there an opportunity to reflect on feelings they’ve lived with for 20 years. Out of the three, Kennedy is the most engaged. As the detective who essentially bonded with Dahmer as he took his confession, Kennedy has perfected his story by now, animatedly discussing his interactions with the seemingly meek man and their shared rise to fame as Dahmer’s murder trial began. Jentzen is more clinical, working through the specifics of the apartment discoveries, where skeletons and assorted human remains had to be reassembled to provide accurate identification. As for Bass, she’s the domestic voice; a former crack addict recalling her brief interactions with a neighborly Dahmer, wondering why the withdrawn fellow would pick a drug-infested, African-American part of town to live. Bass also represents the parasitical aftermath of the arrest, eventually losing her apartment and her privacy when the media swarmed into town.

Focusing on these three individuals, “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” at least has something to discuss, including Bass’s bizarre self-promotion as a victim, sharing bouts with anxiety and notoriety that she claims has hounded her life since the event. Kennedy also communicates his hunger for the spotlight, finding fame bewitching, despite achieving notice for his association with a monster. These psychological discussions are fascinating, only to be chopped up into fragments of thought, making room for arid recreations of Dahmer’s daily rounds that add nothing but distance to an already dog-eared chapter in serial killer history.

Director: Chris James Thompson

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