Thursday 1 December 2022

TV review: 'Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story' (2022), Netflix

It’s not often that I watch anything on Netflix but a friend recommended ‘Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’ to me so I made an exception and logged onto the OTT service to catch the drama.

It turned out to be revelatory, and I’m not entirely sure if this is because I normally spend time with reruns like ‘Poirot’ and ‘Midsomer Murders’. ‘Monster’ is really excellent and takes the viewer on a journey that has some surprising twists and turns but more importantly has meaning. This is not just an edge-of-seater, it raises really interesting issues. 

And it’s not just about one man. What is actually at stake in the show is contemporary American society (though serial killers also exist in other countries, as we know) and its unwieldy values, indeed at times you are drawn gently to reflect on larger things including history itself, and the Western legacy.

Running to ten episodes, ‘Monster’ uses a range of characters to make its points, though Jeffrey Dahmer (Evan Peters) stands or sits (like a spider) at the centre of the web. No, that’s not right. Peters creates a compelling villain and the writers and director have given the main character multiple facets that refract the major issues – independence, escape, transcendence, mortality, consumerism – in a variety of ways. Peters’ Dahmer is mercurial, bumptiously charming, forceful though restrained, determined and inventive. 

The authorities (and, by extension, modern America) come off looking remarkably pallid, slothful, lazy, biased, and ineffective. The police, especially, seem to have almost conspired with Dahmer to make sure that more victims appeared, witnesses and families being brushed off as inconvenient as Dahmer went on his sustained crime spree frequenting gay bars where he picked up unsuspecting Black men.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s father Lionel (Richard Jenkins) is also very well done, he plays a key role in cementing Jeffrey’s place in middle America, rendering him as a nice boy from a normal part of the country who went haywire. The filmmakers make sure to emphasise the serendipitous nature of Dahmer’s psyche, and avoid make pat conclusions so that the show finishes being open-ended and suggestive. Was it education? Was it is mother’s (Penelope Ann Miller) use of prescription drugs during pregnancy? Was it the hobbies Lionel encouraged where Jeffrey cut up roadkill in his spare time?

Heaven knows, but given that serial killers continue to emerge perhaps we’re failing to learn lessons early exponents like Dahmer give us for OUR education. Given this gap perhaps Dahmer should be talked about more. Perhaps it is being talked about but I don’t inhabit those parts of the web, and in any case there’s always something on OTT to fill in for what’s just been trending.

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