The film opens Friday in Jacksonville.

Somebody once said that life is simply high school happening over and over again. Let's just hope that "My Friend Dahmer" is not a reflection of that saying.

"My Friend Dahmer" is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Shaker Heights author John "Derf" Backderf. Derf went to Revere High School in Richfield with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who was arrested and sent to prison for killing 17 men and boys. He was later killed in prison by another inmate.

This story takes place during Dahmer's senior year, before any of the killings took place. Both the book and the movie are brave examinations on Derf's part about he and his high school friends' possible involvement in what would become Dahmer's eventual descent into homicidal madness.

In the movie, Dahmer's home life seems a perfect storm for turning out a troubled kid. His mom, played by Anne Heche, suffered from various forms of mental illness; his dad was well-meaning but largely distant and ineffective as a parent.

Young Dahmer drifts through his senior year unnoticed by his classmates. He is zombie-like and rudderless in school. He is sullen and sorrowful at home listening to his parents argue. His one overarching interest, his hobby, is dissecting roadkill in a shack/laboratory behind his parents' house in the woods.

He even begins soaking the carcasses in acid to get to their skeletal remains.

Eventually, Dahmer's chemist father, played by Dallas Roberts, gets weirded out enough to take down the shack. But it doesn't stop Dahmer's obsession with dead animals or a lone male jogger who passes by the house with a clockwork frequency.

Enter fellow classmate Derf, played by Alex Wolff, who takes a slight but quizzical interest in his odd classmate. He encourages Dahmer to act like a "spaz" in the school hallways, library and classes, thus entertaining the high school masses with his intentionally bizarre behavior -- howling, faking seizures and generally debasing himself for attention and laughs.

Derf and his friends form a Dahmer Fan Club and urge him to pursue more crazy stunts. Dahmer plays along for the most part, but the "act" soon gets old and embarrassing, even for an outcast like Jeff.

Meanwhile, things continue to disintegrate at a rapid pace on the Dahmer home front. His parents split up, and Dahmer begins drinking alcohol in school. Members of the Dahmer Fan Club begin to question their motives in showering Dahmer with this dubious attention.

Ross Lynch, an actor formerly known for roles in fluffy Disney teen movies, plays the Dahmer role with a studied and intriguing subtlety. It's a tricky role, and he gets it right.

The stunts and pranks the students employ using Dahmer as their foil wouldn't mean all that much if the audience didn't know what was ahead for Dahmer following graduation. As it is, the movie provides an eerie and chilling prequel for what would later become a true-life horror story.

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