Dear Mr. Gacy

| December 14, 2010

Almost 20 years have come and gone since John Wayne Gacy, one of the most infamous mass murderers to ever wreak havoc across the United States, was put to death for his grisly handwork. For the small portion of people who remain unfamiliar with Gacy’s story, the ghoulishly titled, “Killer Clown”, was convicted of a string of brutal slayings, (a majority of which occurred in the Chicagoland area), in 1980. In the interim since Gacy’s initial apprehension, his life and horrific proclivities have been chronicled in an innumerable amount of films, books, and psychological profiles, seemingly leaving very little to be said on the topic of this volatile and disturbed mind.
However, the new film, Dear Mr. Gacy, while certainly not revelatory with the information that it presents, does provide an intriguing and genuinely upsetting glimpse into a side of Gacy’s saga that received considerably less attention. Based on the memoir, The Last Victim, by Jason Moss, the film profiles a period of intense and extremely personal correspondence that transpired between Moss, (who was an 18 year old college student at the time), and Gacy, who was awaiting execution on death row. Moss, who was looking for a unique topic for a college criminology paper, was able to obtain the killer’s confidence by presenting himself, (in his letters and phone conversations), as a personality tailored to appeal to Gacy’s truly warped pathology. The film, which is almost entirely character driven, focuses completely on the relationship that developed between the two men, and slowly builds in tension and complexity as the two figures subtly battle for control and psychological dominance.
Having read a fair amount of material regarding Gacy, I was somewhat skeptical as to what this small film could potentially offer on this macabre subject. Yet, despite its slow beginning, the film instantly becomes engrossing once we are introduced to the incarcerated Gacy, who is played by William Forsyth in a transcendently perfect performance. In his initial introduction, Forsyth presents Gacy in such a placid and utterly banal manner that it almost completely subverts our expectations of who this man is supposed to be, and what he is allegedly capable of. As Jason Moss, played by Jessie Moss, (no relation), initiates contact with the man, and their correspondence becomes more invasive and psychologically perverse, Forsyth brilliantly reveals additional layers to the killer’s psychology, presenting Gacy as a man fixated on power, and driven to dominate those around him.
Benefitting strongly from a pair of powerful and scarily believable performances from the two leads, (Jessie Moss is also excellent and matches Forsyth’s intense ferocity in every scene), and a shrewd script that seems to effortlessly skewer the established conventions of the genre, Dear Mr. Gacy becomes an absorbing and innovative entry into the annals of serial killer cinema. The inherent strength of the film is derived predominantly through the interactions between Gacy and Moss. Whenever the film chooses to briefly diverge from their depraved but undeniably multilayered discourse its flaws become much more blatantly apparent. One particular example of this is the film’s characterization of Jason’s family. Not only are the actors who portray Jason’s mother and brother egregiously wooden with their performances, the script, which is so fixated on the development of Gacy and Moss, paints his family and girlfriend with such a broad brush that they are shoved onto the screen not as characters, but aggravating caricatures. The mother is a domineering harpy, the brother an annoying git, and the girlfriend gradually becomes an undersexed and emasculating creep.
Also, while the pressures of keeping up a dialogue between a convicted serial murderer would undoubtedly become problematic and stressful, the film chooses to present Jason’s deterioration and paranoia, (provoked after Gacy makes threats against his family), in such a bombastic fashion, (with Moss scurrying around his house like some sort of fearful and drunken rodent), that it sadly undercuts some of the tension that could have been conveyed if the scene would have been handled in a more nuanced or suggestive fashion. Thankfully, the scenes that adopt such a ridiculously melodramatic quality are rare. The majority of the film transpires in a refreshingly subtle and almost docudrama-like fashion. The mise en scene that is harnessed by director Svetozar Ristovski reflects this tone, with the set design, art direction, and cinematography being mundane and unobtrusive.
John Wayne Gacy is long gone. Yet, through films such as Dear Mr. Gacy, it is clear that his legacy, though horrific and destructive, still provides excellent fodder to craft a compelling story. Forsyth’s portrayal illustrates that Gacy was not some sort of otherworldly demon, but a normal guy who had an enormous propensity for violence and a complete disregard for the lives and families that he was choosing to destroy. Ristovski’s film, while not perfect, should stand as a seminal cinematic depiction of the sheer force of Gacy’s disturbing pathology. Through his relationship with Gacy, Moss, (as it seems to be suggested by his memoir), became the “last victim” for the murderer. By fabricating a story to appeal to Gacy’s tastes Moss gained the opportunity to stare into the abyss. However, we have to wonder what he saw there. In 2006, Jason Moss would take his own life.

About the Author:

Adam Mohrbacher is a freelance film critic who has been published online with filmophilia.com, examiner.com and of course Film Monthly. He loves the work of Ryan Gosling, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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