(R) 3 1/2 stars Dahmer is a gripping, well-acted horror film that builds terror quietly, avoiding blood and gore to a remarkable degree. I say this up front because, after asking what I would be reviewing this week and hearing Dahmer, every single person made a face and said, "Why in the world would anybody want to see that?" The "that" I suspect they envisioned was a gorefest showing cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer screwing, torturing and eating his victims with blood and guts all over the place. Certainly, that was the "that" I expected to see (Wow, I"m beginning to feel like President Clinton). Writer/director David Jacobson was inspired to create Dahmer after reading the 1994 book A Father"s Story, in which Lionel Dahmer wondered whether his failures as a dad might have contributed to his son becoming a monster. In real life, Milwaukee native Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 men, eating parts of them and incorporating them into bizarre sexual rituals. In 1988, after serving a 10-month sentence for fondling a minor, Dahmer got a job at a local candy factory and rented a small apartment. When neighbors complained about noxious odors and the whine of a power saw, he successfully explained it away by saying his refrigerator was broken and he was building a bookshelf. In 1991, police responding to a neighbor"s call found a bleeding, naked, 14-year-old boy stumbling near Dahmer"s place. Amazingly, they brushed off the incident as "a homosexual lovers" spat" and returned the child to Dahmer, who killed him shortly after. When another victim escaped and found smarter cops, Dahmer was finally arrested and investigators found the horror inside his home. Convicted on all counts and sentenced to 957 years in jail, Dahmer got off easy when a fellow inmate stabbed him to death a few years later. I state these facts because Dahmer narrows its scope, dealing with only three victims. The decision is a good one, but it"s important that we remember the big picture. Hopping back and forth in time between Dahmer"s younger days fighting with his dad (Bruce Davison, top notch as always) and his adult life working at the chocolate factory, writer/director Jacobson does not try to explain or excuse the killer. Instead, he puts him into context, as a son, an employee and that guy sitting at the end of the bar. Knowing that minds like that walk among us is scarier than any gorefest could hope to be. As Dahmer, Jeremy Renner underplays his role well, presenting an inscrutable man using his glassy stare to keep us from seeing something very, very bad. Renner"s performance is smart and a bit sexy; that is until he begins his horrific activities. Just as good is Artel Kayýru as Rodney (out of respect to the families, the victims in the film are composite characters with different names than the real victims), the Dahmer target we spend the most time with. Kayýru gives a layered, touching performance as a lonely young guy in the wrong place. He is achingly human and the exchanges between him and Renner provide the primary draw to this disturbing, fascinating little movie.

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