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The cinematic artistry of Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story cannot compensate for its concerning morality

Netflix’s real life take on cannibalistic sex offender and serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, is a harrowing watch, following the murders and assaults of seventeen innocent men and children in the late 20th century.

By Imogen Harbert, First Year, Film and Television

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story's exquisite use of sound and point-of-view shots from the victim's perspective emphasises the predatory behaviour of Dahmer (Evan Peters) and allows for comment on the consistent attack of LGBTQ+ and black communities. But the question still stands: should it have been made?

After multiple Netflix successes, such as Making a Murderer (2015) and Conversations with a Killer (2019), it became clear that the true crime genre was a megahit with the service's audience. Netflix’s new take on cannibalistic sex offender and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is a harrowing watch which follows the murders and assaults of seventeen men and children in the late 20th century, many of whom were men of colour.

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story // Photo by Netflix, courtesy of IMDB

Creators Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan use the audience’s prior knowledge of the real-life case to their advantage. One standout moment is set in a gay bar where Dahmer is asked if he’ll make a sexual advance on somebody, to which he replies, "Tonight I’m a man of action". While the man he is talking to thinks it's merely an innocent comment, the audience knows Dahmer is referring to murder, demonstrating the sickening power dynamic that Dahmer thrives on.

The show follows a non-linear narrative, starting with Dahmer's capture and arrest. Placing the audience straight in the action was initially gripping; however, this highly intensive opening made the rest of the show fall flat in terms of pacing. The slow-burn approach it adopted made it hard to fully engage with at points.

Evan Peters’ performance is the clear standout as he successfully embodies Dahmer’s socially awkward and psychotic nature. His upright posture, slow-talking, lack of eye contact with others, and deep breathing shows he is not of sound mind, evoking an uncomfortable reaction from the audience.

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story // Photo by Netflix, courtesy of IMDB

By contrast, a popular question both critics and audiences alike are asking is: does this show attempt to make viewers empathise with Dahmer? The latter half of the series focuses on certain victims, such as 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone (Kieran Tamadong) and Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford).

Sinthasomphone escaped Dahmer's apartment, where most of the murders took place, and was found by Dahmer's neighbour Glenda Cleveland (Niecy Nash). Although Cleveland was persistent in not letting Sinthasomphone leave her protection due to concerns for his safety, the police’s incompetence meant he would be returned to his eventual killer. This is the first of many criticisms made by the show to highlight the negligence of the police, placing partial blame on them for future murders.

The entirety of episode six pays homage to Hughes as he struggles to find a job as a black, gay, deaf man in the 1980s. The montage of him repeatedly entering every store with his CV despite consistent rejections highlights his persistent attitude and potential, making his murder that much more heartbreaking to witness. However, the problem with giving more screen time and background to specific victims gives the impression that some victims are more important than others.

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story // Photo by Netflix, courtesy of IMDB

It must be noted that the show was made with the lack of consent of the victims’ families, with NBCBLK tweeting:

The creators were not concerned about reopening old wounds, demonstrating Hollywood’s obsession with producing profit, even when it comes at the expense of others. This is a re-occurring pattern in film and television. Pamela Anderson was not informed that Disney’s limited series, Pam and Tommy (2022) was being made, despite them profiting off of her personal tribulations.

I do recommend this series for its cinematic artistry, remarkable performances, and educational value; the show’s intent is not to sympathise with or excuse Dahmer's actions but merely to understand how he was moulded into one of the world’s most prominent serial killers. That being said, be mindful that this is based on horrific real-life events and take watching this as a chance to remember his victims, not Dahmer himself.

Featured Image: Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story // Photo by Netflix, courtesy of IMDB

Did you think Monster was guilty of unnecessarily opening old wounds?