There are few horrors more pervertedly fascinating than those of the North American serial killer. Killing with seemingly endless creativity and depravity, the US has produced an alarmingly large number of mass murders, most of whom take their community wholly by surprise when they are revealed. Jeff is a documentary about the Jeffrey Dahmer case that looks at the impact a serial killer has on those around them, highlighting the fact that before these monsters were revealed, they were just the guy next door.
Director Chris James Thompson has taken a different path in the telling of a serial killer story, choosing to highlight the experiences of only three people, rather than taking the usual route of sensationally talking to anyone and everyone involved in the case. The only people telling their stories in this film are his neighbor from across the hall (and only real friend), the arresting officer and the medical examiner who worked on the remains of his victims, which helps to enlighten the impact Dahmer’s crimes had on his community in a deeper, more intimate way.
Examining this feeling of community violation seems to be where Thompson has put his focus. The film is strengthened by the addition of seemingly innocuous reenactments of an actor playing “Jeff” as he goes about running errands and doing chores. These interludes create a deep reaction in the viewer, viscerally demonstrating that the true horror of serial killer is not knowing that your neighbor buying bleach could be a sign that he’s eating his dates.
Jeff doesn’t focus on gore, but it will shock and disturb you, and is one of the best films at this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival. It screens on Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm, Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 10:00 pm and Friday, May 4 at 9:45 pm. Check the festival website for details and tickets.
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