Most of The Jeffrey Dahmer Files plays like outtakes from another, better documentary about the infamous cannibal and serial killer. The movie relies on interviews with three people — one of Dahmer’s neighbors, a medical examiner and the lead detective on the case — to recount their experiences with the seemingly ordinary man who was convicted of murdering and partially eating 17 men in his apartment in Milwaukee in 1991.
The revelations are next to nil. The neighbor describes Dahmer as a nice, quiet man who kept to himself, and she remembers a strange smell that always emanated from his apartment. The medical examiner thinks Dahmer was trying to create a zombie from the body parts of his victims in order to have his personal, docile sex partner. The detective remembers giving Dahmer a set of his oldest son’s clothes, so he wouldn’t have to appear at his arraignment in prison-orange jumpsuit.
In between, director Chris James Thompson cuts away to reenactments of Dahmer (played by Andrew Swant) buying an empty barrel for his gruesome experiments, riding the bus (he did not own a car), hailing a taxi to move a corpse wrapped in plastic (he tells the driver it’s luggage) and checking into a hotel room with another man, then leaving by himself the next morning, pulling a heavy suitcase presumably containing a body.
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files never gives you a detailed overview of Dahmer’s crimes — if you had never heard of him, the film would be baffling. It skips over some of the most outrageous incidents in the case, such as the teenage boy who managed to escape and hailed police, only to be handed back to Dahmer. The movie doesn’t take a journalistic approach, nor does it play up to our natural fascination and curiosity toward the case. It doesn’t dig, pulling off the seemingly impossible feat of making this horrific crime seem dull.
Director: Chris James Thompson.
Screenwriters: Chris James Thompson, Andrew Swant, Joe Riepenhoff.
Producers: Chris James Thompson, Jack Turner.
An IFC Midnight release. Running time: 76 minutes. Descriptions of gruesome crimes. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema Wynwood.