Review: Netflix’s ‘Monster’

(Graphic by Reece Bachta | Collegian Media Group)

The title of the new Netflix series “Monster,” following Jeffrey Dahmer and some of his 17 victims, could not be more fitting. This show is certainly not for the faint of heart, nor the queasy. The retelling of Dahmer’s gruesome story is hard to look away from and gives intense insight into the making of the notorious serial killer. 

The opening scene features Glenda Cleveland, played by Niecy Nash, who hears the faint buzz of an electric saw through her apartment vent. This sound, coming from her next-door neighbor’s apartment, is Dahmer chopping up one of his victims. As she goes to confront Dahmer, she notices a rancid smell. Dahmer, played by Evan Peters, deflects Glenda’s questions as he leaves to find his next victim — Tracy Edwards. Edwards, played by Shaun J. Brown, escapes from Dahmer’s grasp later in the episode, frantically running down the street in search of help. The police find Edwards, and return to Dahmer’s apartment to check the validity of his accusations. The findings lead to Dahmer’s arrest and 16 life sentences in prison.

Working backwards in time from the arrest of Dahmer to his various killings is a genius  storytelling tactic, giving viewers a glimpse into both the trial and the killings at the same time. The first few episodes in particular feature long, drawn-out scenes that induce dread without showing much gore. Instead of leaning into the horror angle and making a spectacle of the all-too-real story, the directors carefully tread the line between a horror and psychological thriller.

Refocusing the story on the victims is an idea that is long overdue, and should have been a bigger part of the show. Dahmer has long been regarded as 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 showed by police, as all of Dahmer’s victims were gay men and almost all men of color. Dahmer was no criminal genius; many people, like Cleveland, knew there was something incredibly wrong going on. Much to their dismay, the victims’ cries went unheard.

Highlighting the suffering of the victims, the victims’ families and the entire community painted a much different picture than one of an ominous mastermind. It gave insight into both the sickness shown by Dahmer and the apathy shown by police. Still, the show failed to fully give the victims and their families the story they deserved. One example where this was done successfully was in episode six, which closely follows the murder of Tracy Hughs, played by Rodney Burford. Due to Hughs’ deafness, this mostly silent episode gives us insight into his encounter with Dahmer. While this episode was by far the most heart-wrenching, it gave the spotlight to the rightful owners, taking away the glorification of Dahmer’s actions. If the rest of the show mimicked 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 watchlist. While Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s script gives viewers a glimpse into the pain inflicted by Dahmer, I don’t believe it’s enough. If you already know the story, don’t prioritize watching it; it’s not enough of a stand-out among others. Cinematically, the show is impressive, and multiple scenes caused me to shed a tear. However, the story didn’t quite hit the mark when it came to unveiling the true suffering Dahmer caused. If you’re looking for something to watch on a Friday night, I would click past “Monster.”