Considering the recent popularity of real crime documentaries, it’s surprising that Jeffrey Dahmer’s case has remained mostly under the radar. That is, until Monday when Netflix debuted a miniseries called “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” about the serial murderer case that shook Milwaukee and the rest of the country.
Understandably, some people wouldn’t be interested in this next chapter in the Jeffrey Dahmer tale, what with all the gory specifics and the national notoriety of the case. The show debuts on streaming services at a moment when the media’s fixation on murder mysteries is starting to feel stale and even gratuitous.
Listeners in Milwaukee, who have seen Dahmer’s legacy linger over the city for decades, may understand this sentiment more than anyone. Worse yet, the film adaptations rarely improved the original stories and sometimes even included Disney middle schoolers. (When not Dahmer, it’s “Making a Murderer,” “Slender Man,” and others that capitalize on the state’s high-profile tragedies.)
This new Netflix miniseries looks more interesting than most serial killer shows, even focusing on Milwaukee’s most infamous killer. There are five reasons to see “Monster” that could make it worthwhile to revisit the Dahmer case.
There have been several films about Jeffrey Dahmer, but none like the star power of “Monster.” Acclaimed actors such as Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor,” “The Shape of Water,” etc.) and Niecy Nash, who is best known for her humorous work on “Reno 911,” but who was fantastic in a meatier part (no pun intended) in Netflix’s “Uncorked: Secrets of a BBQ Sommelier Family” are among the cast. The new drama has lengthy cameos from retro stars Molly Ringwald and Michael Learned, who show off their mettle in roles very different from the comedic ones that made them famous in the first place.
And of course, Evan Peters, a highly great actor who stole moments in the latter “X-Men” movies as Quicksilver and the acclaimed HBO drama “Mare of Easttown,” is playing Dahmer.
Ryan Murphy is Involved, for Better or For Worse
Since his first success with “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee,” Ryan Murphy has established himself as not just one of the most prominent but also one of the most prolific producers in Hollywood, with recent credits including “Hollywood,” “Ratched,” “The Politician,” “Pose,” and “Halston.” The one constant in his ascent to prominence: inconsistency. There are transcendent pieces among the garbage, and there is even transcendent trash among the trash pieces.
However, the “American Crime Story” anthology series has been one of his most notable works in recent years, especially after the success of its 2016 premiere, “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.” Each miniseries dove into its potentially lurid actual crime subject matter with depth, humanity, and a POV about why these tabloid-y tales mean something today and what they reflect about our society, and while the two subsequent seasons didn’t ping the same level of buzz as its debut, the quality remained high.
Surprise Behind The Scenes
The cast of “Monster” includes several well-known actors, but the film’s most outstanding team members likely worked on the production side.
Some of the Netflix mini-series are directed by Carl Franklin, a seasoned director. His extensive record includes notable works for both large (“Devil in a Bull Dress”) and small screens (including a collaboration with Murphy) (“The Leftovers,” the similar real-life serial killer drama “Mindhunter”). And speaking of sharp vision, practically all of the episodes were shot by rising cinematographer Jason McCormick, whose previous credits include the indie hit “Lemon” and the coming-of-age smash hit “Booksmart.”
While multi-instrumentalists such as Trent Reznor, Daft Punk, and Jonny Greenwood get all the credit for their Oscar-winning scores, recent years have seen notable compositional contributions from Cave and Ellis as well, especially in westerns such as “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “The Road,” “Lawless,” “Hell or High Water,” and “Wind River.”
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It will be interesting to hear how his music, which is frequently sparse and sets the tone, conveys the environment of Milwaukee 30 years ago. “Monster” was shot in California, namely in Los Angeles.
It Needs to Make a Point
Recent true crime miniseries have offered little more than cheap thrills based on actual events, half-baked conspiracies, and streaming audience numbers. There’s a lot of crime in the world, but usually not enough for an entire film, let alone hours and hours of a miniseries, unless your goal is to gawk at humanity at its ugliest simply.
On the other hand, Murphy’s actual crime films often delve into social ills of the time and today, the impact of celebrity and media, and much more beyond simply bullet point recaps of lurid headlines. The trailer for “Monster” gives the impression that it will do the same, delving into the social blind spots and prejudices that allowed Dahmer’s killing rampage to continue. We can only hope that “Monster” will provoke more than simply thoughts of murder.
It Seems Like a Promising Preview
If that hasn’t persuaded you to watch “Monster,” perhaps the miniseries will. The recently released trailer does a tense job of selling the new show, highlighting both the unsettling aesthetic (it feels like Murphy’s “American Crime Story,” and it also doesn’t feel too removed stylistically from his more outlandish “American Horror Story” series) and the more significant points it is attempting to make about this all-too-true urban legend.
You may watch all 10 episodes of “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” on Netflix. Click here to read a retrospective on the case written by people who were there when it happened.
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