Why Jeffrey Dahmer Is One of Evan Peters’ Best Performances
Telling the story of a serial killer in film or television can be an incredibly daunting task. Of course, the performance needs to be treated delicately, especially in cases where the murderer being portrayed is a real-life figure, as their victims’ families could very well still be alive and be forced to see their loved ones’ trauma reduced to entertainment fodder. Familial considerations aside, the subject matter of a serial killer character study is inherently dark. Obviously, a story about a mass murderer is going to feature death, which is triggering enough on its own, but these stories oftentimes necessitate the inclusion of elements like sexual abuse or torture, therefore making the piece of media even more upsetting.
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story explores some truly horrific crimes, but it is filled with thoughtful performances, and it seems to tell the chilling story of the titular prolific serial killer in a manner that, while entertaining, never feels particularly exploitative. Though the series features an impressive cast, it is undoubtedly Evan Peters, who portrayed Dahmer himself, who steals the show. He manages to make the character come across as both unassuming and intimidating, all the while delivering his lines in a pitch-perfect Midwestern accent.
Evan Peters’ Acting History
Portraying the cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is definitely a far cry from some of the roles that Evan Peters has taken on in the past. Early in his career, he was a part of more kid-friendly far, like the Disney Channel sitcom Phil of the Future, and later, he appeared in the teen-centered drama One Tree Hill. He also appeared in a single episode of The Office as Micheal Scott’s slacker nephew Luke, and his performance contributed to one of the cringiest moments in the history of the series. Arguably his most notable role is Quicksilver, a snarky speedster superhero, in the X-Men prequel films.
However, portraying a violent character is not entirely new to Peters. In the first season of the series American Horror Story, titled “Murder House,” Peters portrayed Tate Langdon, the ghost of a school shooter. He went on to play several other characters in the series. However, it’s possible that nothing has better showcased the actor’s talents than embodying Jeffrey Dahmer, as the role forced Peters to transcend his long career playing younger characters.
The Life and Times of Jeffrey Dahmer
Due to the narrative structure of Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Evan Peters portrays Dahmer during many periods of the killer’s life. As such, he essentially needed to play several characters so that audiences would understand Dahmer’s descent into madness. Audiences see Dahmer constantly struggling to fit in.
In one of the earliest periods chronologically wherein Peters is portraying Dahmer, his parents go through a vitriolic divorce, and audiences see how Dahmer is abandoned by his parents. He spends most of high school alienated from his peers, and after graduating, he flunks out of college, floats from job to job, and even joins the army before being discharged for his drunken antics.
Dahmer actually killed his first victim, Steven Hicks, while still living at his parent’s home. Peters manages to balance the character’s rage during the time of that murderer with a clear sense that Dahmer felt a lot of pain over his first victim’s death. When the dust settled and the bodies were counted, it was revealed that Dahmer killed 17 men and boys. Audiences see many of these deaths during the course of the show, and Peters utilizes each murder to push Dahmer further from his humanity.
Balancing Sociopathy and Sincerity
Oftentimes, depictions of serial killers on television or film become one note. Actors must remember that their characters, regardless of the heinous nature of their crimes, are human and emotionally complex. Dahmer was a cannibal who attempted to turn his victims into living zombies. It would have been easy to portray him as uniformly monstrous, but Peters turns in a varied performance that allows audiences to examine how a human being can reach such levels of depravity.
Though he has always been a talented performer, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story likely represents an entirely new chapter of Evan Peters’ career. The series has quickly risen to the top of the current Netflix most-watched list, and there is a near-unanimous consensus that his performance was nearly flawless. His Jeffrey Dahmer could very well be among the best portrayals of a serial killer ever put on screen. He manages to make the murderer come across as both terrifying and timid, and his complex performance transforms the series from just another biopic into must-watch television.