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The Jeffrey Dahmer Files


“Go look in the refrigerator.”

Rod Lott July 25th, 2013

Understandably, a documentary about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer that weaves fictional elements with fact sounds like a wretched, evil, exploitative thing. Instead, it's a small marvel of microcinema — and another argument for the storytelling power of the nonfiction format.

dahmer

Now available on the IFC Midnight label, The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is built largely on interviews with three people tied directly to the notorious serial killer who confessed to 17 murders: apartment neighbor Pamela Bass, police detective Pat Kennedy and medical examiner Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen. Each grabs your attention and holds it with his or her recollections, but that's expected.

The wild card is the other half of the movie, in which pieces of Dahmer's ho-hum life — trips to buy bleach, to pick up a barrel, to solicit a trick — are depicted via re-enactments, with co-writer Andrew Swant portraying Dahmer. He does so without any hint of playing a monster; not once does he appear unhinged or go over-the-top, yet somehow, the performance sticks with you as super-creepy.

Similarly, Chris James Thompson directs with a clinical detachment, which I mean as a compliment. I think his decision not to show any acts of violence is a genius one — not for reasons of prudishness, but because he relies on viewers' minds to fill in the blanks. You imagine what's going on behind that closed door, what's in that suitcase, and whatever your brain whips up is more chilling than Thompson could fake.

Even if you already know the story, it sounds all the more terrifying when told from the mouths of those who close to the case. Produced in part by American Movie’s Chris Smith (look for that doc’s subject, Mark Borchardt, in the optical-shop scene), this film will haunt you. —Rod Lott

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