WATCH OF THE WEEK: Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
A true-crime drama based on the stomach-turning exploits of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was never going to make for cosy viewing. But Ryan Murphy’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story leans so far into the grisliness – Dahmer would kill, cannibalise and dismember his victims in his Milwaukee apartment – that you will feel your gag reflex kick in within minutes. It’s an unflinching chronicle of unspeakable evil and appears to have set itself the challenge of being entirely unwatchable.
Whether dissecting the OJ Simpson trial in American Crime Story or celebrating queer culture in Eighties New York with Pose, Murphy has long had an obsession with the unexplored wrinkles of the psyche. And yet it’s hard to see the value of delving into the agony and ecstasy of Jeffrey Dahmer (played here by Mare of Easttown’s Evan Peters), a damaged man who channelled his fantasies into crimes too appalling to contemplate.
Netflix is at pains not to glamorise Dahmer while the suffering and humanity of his victims are centre-stage throughout. This is admirable, but as a drama, it translates into a carnival of horror.
“The smell is worse than ever,” complains Dahmer’s neighbour after we see him cleaning a bloodied knife in the opening scene. In a subsequent flashback to his unhappy childhood, he pores over roadkill. Even the title, with its unnecessary repetition of Dahmer, gives off a queasy vibe.
If Monster has a saving grace, it is Evan Peters in the title role. A ghoulish nerd in the tradition of Psycho’s Norman Bates, his Dahmer is creepily unflappable. That remains so even when, in the first episode, his latest potential victim (Shaun Brown) escapes and drags the police back to Dahmer’s apartment.
Murphy isn’t the first contemporary figure in film and TV to nurture a fascination with serial killers. Zac Efron portrayed Ted Bundy in 2019; a year later, David Tennant slithered inside the mind of Dennis Nilsen.
Hopefully, this isn’t a trend because attempts to bring these specimens to the screen invariably end up somewhere between tedious and grim. That’s certainly true of Monster, a competent and earnest character study that goes out of its way to make the viewer’s insides lurch, and their skin crawl.