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‘Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’ Review: A Disturbing Dive into a Murderer’s Mind

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A man rinses a knife in the kitchen sink. His figure is obscured, suffocated in a dim, rotting yellow light. As he rinses, deep burgundy drips off the blade and into the sink. His rumpled, plain t-shirt is the focus as he smokes a cigarette and drinks a beer, crumpling the can and tossing it into the basin. His face is always just out of view and his form deliberately blocked: the viewer seems to be hiding undetected from the man onscreen. This ominous opening of “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” sets the tone of lurid intrigue for the rest of the show, holding viewers captive by the show’s “can’t look away” factor.

Creators Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy aren’t ones to shy away from gritty, gory details of the macabre, as fans of Murphy’s “American Horror Story” can attest. In this new limited series, the pair set out to illuminate the motives, process, and crimes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Throughout the season, the viewer is taken into the heart of the crimes and mind of the criminal — from the murders, to prison.

From the first scenes of episode one, the show uncomfortably immerses the viewer into every last detail of Jeffrey Dahmer’s world. While disturbingly effective at satiating the morbid curiosity that draws certain viewers to the story of a killer, the repetition of Dahmer’s cycle of killing in the first half of the show introduces a gratuitous level of gruesome detail. In the process, victims are reduced to their proximity to Dahmer as Brennan and Murphy side-step any thoughtful portrayals of their identities outside of the atrocities the show depicts.

The show’s strongest points lie in its ability to create and sustain tension that keeps the viewer engaged and on-edge throughout. Evan Peters lives up to expectations in playing Jeffrey Dahmer as he expertly mimics the killer’s eerie mannerisms. Peters emulates the muffled, apathetic cadence distinct to his character impressively well, and the juxtaposition of Dahmer’s awkward uncertainty in manner with his adeptness at killing is enough to inspire a queasy shudder in even the most avid of horror fans.

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With few breaks from the story’s suspenseful intensity, however, the viewer soon tires of experiencing the harrowing scenes seemingly first-hand. The entropic bareness of Dahmer’s apartment, designed as an exact replica of the real setting of the murders, adds to the uncomfortably immersive experience. The viewer is plunged into the stifling, hazy decay of Dahmer’s world, the stench of his crimes seeming to ooze from the screen.

Starting with the escape of Dahmer’s final target, the first episode emphatically points to the intensity of Dahmer’s evil impulses which had been solidified with each act of violence. The next four episodes seek to answer the question that immediately bubbles to the surface of the viewer’s mind: “How did he get to this point?” Tracing the murderer’s upbringing and tallying Dahmer’s victim count, the show repeatedly walks the viewer through the cycle of killing. The portrayal of the instability of Dahmer’s childhood seeks to contextualize the hurricane that lands with his first kill and continues to wreak havoc with each subsequent murder.

However, the focus on Dahmer through a repeated viewing of his process of luring targets from gay bars doesn’t accomplish as comprehensive of a narrative as was intended. The redundancy of the illustration of Dahmer’s out of control loop rather insensitively demeans the victims through their pain as merely one among a host of other depicted murders.

Most of us are comfortable with a virtual barrier separating our minds from the mind of a killer like Jeffrey Dahmer. “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” seeks to shock the viewer into attention by toppling this barrier. Unfortunately, the force-fed macabre details render each episode challenging and unnecessarily disturbing to watch despite its strengths in providing piercing close insight into Dahmer’s life.

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