The title of the new Netflix series “Monster”, which follows Jeffrey Dahmer and some of his 17 victims, could not be more appropriate. This show is certainly not for the faint of heart, nor for the dizzy. The retelling of Dahmer’s gruesome history is hard to stop looking at and provides an intense insight into the creation of the notorious serial killer.
The opening scene introduces Glenda Cleveland, played by Niecy Nash, who hears the faint hum of a chainsaw through the ventilation in her apartment. This sound, coming from her next door neighbor’s apartment, is Dahmer hacking one of her victims to pieces. When she goes to confront Dahmer, she notices a rancid smell. Dahmer, played by Evan Peters, deflects Glenda’s questions as she goes off in search of her next victim: Tracy Edwards. Edwards, played by Shaun J. Brown, escapes Dahmer’s clutches later in the episode, frantically running down the street for help. The police find Edwards and return to Dahmer’s apartment to verify the validity of the accusations against him. The findings lead to Dahmer’s arrest and 16 life terms in prison.
Working backwards in time from Dahmer’s arrest to his various murders is a brilliant storytelling tactic, giving viewers a glimpse of both the trial and the murders at the same time. The first few episodes in particular feature long, drawn-out scenes that are dread-inducing without showing much gore. Instead of leaning into the horror angle and making too much of a real story show, the directors carefully draw the line between horror and psychological thriller.
Refocusing the story on the victims is an idea that should have been a bigger part of the show. Dahmer has long been considered one of the most notorious serial killers of all time. But his delayed capture cannot be attributed to anything other than the racism and homophobia displayed by the police, since all of Dahmer’s victims were gay men and nearly all of them were men of color. Dahmer was not a criminal genius; many people, like Cleveland, knew something incredibly wrong was going on. To his dismay, the screams of the victims went unheard.
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Highlighting the suffering of the victims, the families of the victims, and the entire community painted a very different picture than that of a sinister mastermind. She gave insight into both the sickness displayed by Dahmer and the apathy displayed by the police. Still, the show failed to give the victims and their families the story they deserved. One example where this was successfully done was in episode six, which closely follows the murder of Tracy Hughs, played by Rodney Burford. Due to Hughs’s deafness, this mostly silent episode gives us a glimpse of her encounter with Dahmer. While this episode was by far the most heartbreaking, it put a spotlight on the rightful owners, taking the glorification out of Dahmer’s actions. If the rest of the show imitated this episode, it would have been much better.
Looking at the series as a whole, I wonder if this is a show you should add to your watch list. While Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s script does give viewers a glimpse of the pain inflicted by Dahmer, I don’t think it’s enough. If you already know the story, don’t prioritize watching it; not stand out enough among others. Cinematically, the show is impressive and several scenes made me shed a tear. However, the story missed the mark when it came to revealing the true suffering that Dahmer caused. If you’re looking for something to watch on a Friday night, I’d click on “Monster.”