(A.k.a. SORRY DAD)

Jeffrey Dahmer (Rusty Sneary) stands accused of the murders of several men. As his trial begins, Dahmer looks complacent when the charges against him are read aloud in court. The camera then pans across the courtroom until it rests on the focus of this film: his father Lionel (Scott Cordes) and stepmother Sheri (Cathy Barnett).

The film proceeds to unfurl in non-linear fashion, propounding arbitrary glimpses of Lionel's relationship with "my son, Jeff".

While most of the footage offers snapshots of Dahmer in his teens and adult years, there are also minor forays into his childhood where soft-focus scenes reveal Lionel's memories of finding his son's goldfish killed in their bowl, a severed dog's head impaled on a pole at the bottom of their garden, and so on. Things that, in retrospect, Lionel believes were tell-tale signs of the troubles to come.

The bulk of the film is set during the lead-up to Dahmer's trial and centres on the family's struggles to cope with the growing media attention. A circus of reporters gathers at their end of their lawn, barely restrained by lawman Amos (Bo Svenson). Feeling like prisoners in their own home, the family (Lionel, Sheri and his long suffering mother, Catherine [Jeanine Hutchings]) divide their time between playing cards, sitting on the sofa to mull over where it all went wrong, and reminiscing over past events they could have handled differently.

This latter plot point allows for many flashback sequences, all lensed in varying arthouse styles. We get to witness Lionel's reaction to the police telling him over the telephone that his son may be a murderer; how Jeffrey's arrest for child molesting in earlier life shattered the family; Jeffrey's downward spiral into becoming a teenaged alcoholic, and more.

One evening Lionel and Sheri challenge themselves to sit through a TV show centred on Jeffrey. They are horrified to hear two anonymous guests accuse them of abusing Jeffrey as a kid. And here the true motive behind this film becomes apparent: this is not an expose into what compels a young man to commit homicide - it's an attempt to exonerate the couple of any wrong-doing.

Tellingly, Dahmer's real mother is conspicuously absent throughout. Even when Lionel pays her home a visit, she's missing. All we learn about her is that she was on a lot of drugs during Jeffrey's conception and childhood.

Lionel's story is the drama here. An upstanding family guy who speaks nothing but reason; an intelligent and hard-working chemist with strong moral values; an emotionally sharp "good guy" who will do anything to protect the loving sanctity of his family, including single-handedly taking on Jeffrey's early upbringing while his errant first wife underwent years of treatment. Yeah, he really is portrayed as a little too good to be true.

But that's not really the problem with RAISING JEFFREY DAHMER. Or rather, it's only one of many problems that hinder this production.

The acting is diabolical at times. Cordes in particular fluffs every emotional scene to near-comedic measures. Barnett does her best to act opposite his constant wide-eyed face-pulling, but it's a losing battle. Svenson adopts the old-fashioned acting school technique of lengthy pauses between each slowly muttered line, in an attempt to hog screen time. And Sneary is just funny: in the peculiar and hysterical senses. No-one on Earth would let someone this blatantly fucked up wade through life unchallenged, let alone welcome them into military school etc. Nope, subtlety is not Sneary's strongpoint.

Only Hutchings as Dahmer's tired grandmother emerges with credibility.

As if to complement the atrocious acting, the script is also woeful. Sedate when it should be electric, and vice versa, none of it rings true. At times it feels like a badly written sitcom, such is its inability to convince on any level. And, although I've only read one book on Dahmer, I'm highly suspicious of how much of this content can be read as "factual".

Pacing is non-existent. The flat script and lifeless performances surely don't help on this front, but the chief blame lies with director Rich Ambler. His partiality towards employing arty film techniques to the various vignette-like flashbacks soon grows tiresome, blighted by a severe lack of budget and crippling repetition over time. The varying styles add nothing to the plot aside from pretension.

Anyone looking for a serious insight into Dahmer's state of mind will be sorely short-changed. Anyone hoping for gory re-enactments of the killer's evil deeds will not find them here. This is like a cheap made-for-TV film that doesn't work: too weird for UK Living viewers, and yet too dull for anyone else.

Had the film been made by a talented crew, it may have succeeded in it's ambitions and told an emotional story in an unusual, visually beguiling manner. But, however clear the good intentions are, it cannot be avoided that the end result is crap.

The film is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 and overall the transfer can be aptly described as fair. For the most part, images are clear and acceptably sharp. Colours are watered down but this appears to be a stylistic choice rather than a transfer flaw. The various arty methods of filming (black-and-white; grainy home movie-type stock; over-exposed sequences; distorted soft imagery) make for a presentation that's difficult to assess without incorrectly being derogatory about the disc.

The English audio is presented in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both offer reasonable playback, but I found the 2.0 mix better when wanting to make out the frequently mumbled dialogue.

A static main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

There are no extra features on the disc.

RAISING JEFFREY DAHMER adopts an atypical approach to the tired true-life-serial-killer genre. It's mix of (dubious) fact and ostentatious presentation are admirable in intent. They should make for mesmerizing viewing. But sadly the desire to do something different is overshadowed on this occasion by rum story-telling, poor performances and barmy dialogue. At a push, I'll concede that some of the stock music is used well.

I have to agree overall though, with the less complimentary comments left on The Internet Movie Database regarding RAISING JEFFREY DAHMER: recommended for insomniacs only.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Revolver Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review