14-year-old Milo experiences a devastating childhood trauma that triggers a malicious preoccupation with vampiric lore. But, is he really transfiguring into a bona fide bloodsucker or is it a fiercely elaborate coping mechanism?
As his empathy levels reach critical mass, so his apathy towards social taboos and moral equity grows and Milo embarks upon a desperate path of detached self-destruction
The concept of Transfiguration, when viewed through the filter of Christian eschatology, is regarded as a necessary pit stop on the journey to eternal life. In demonology, it is perceived more simplistically as the dark art of physical metamorphosis for the purpose of deception. This bleak and lonely indie picture seeks to blend both these concepts. In doing so The Transfiguration effectuates an astute reflection on the co-dependancy of mental illness and grief.
The entire cast delivers but Eric Ruffin is the epitome of understated arctic cool as the heartbreakingly mixed-up Milo. A softly spoken enigma who rides the subway out of the projects to chew on affluent New Yorkers in a crisp metaphorical jab at consumerism. Rising star Chloe Levine (The OA) plays his doleful love interest Sophie with intricate poise, striving to weave delicate strands of light into her caliginous cloak of victimisation.
The beautifully synergetic musical arrangement comes from Margaret Chardiet, better known as the groundbreaking noise culturist Pharmakon, and it’s a coldly logical yet organically natural progression from her hyper-aware album Bestial Burden.
The film does dip more than a flirtatious toe in derivative waters in terms of its obvious influences, such as the sociopolitical ruminations of Romero’s Martin (1978) and the grimy killing spree mechanics of McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Kiler (1986). But fear not, the core themes remain warmly ancestral rather than coldly plagiaristic.
There are also surprising casualty cameos from genre dependants Larry Fessenden, James Lorinz and Lloyd Kaufman to enjoy but, just like the constant referencing of famous vampire flicks, they don’t force The Transfiguration too far up its own meta-rectum.
Much fuss has occurred over director Michael O’Shea’s rise from taxi driver/doorman to Un Certain Regard competitor, yet The Transfiguration had an 8-year incubation period before severing its creative umbilical cord. What O’Shea himself describes as “a unique and weird independent film” draws upon this excruciating creation process and distills it into an immersive pool of stoic confidence.
The 44-year-old debutante has been refreshingly candid about his transit from the Rockaway quarter of Queens to Cannes, unfashionably humble in his acknowledgements and truly magnanimous in the face of his achievements. Again, this ideology haemorrhages into the bloodstream of the film, energising it with an empoweringly reticent vitality. This, in turn, inoculates the movie with a primitive charm that diffuses some of the more unpalatable moments and protects against overexploitation.
The Transfiguration is an edgy narrative parable that prods you insolently in the guts to remind you just how thrilling and hypnotic credible independent horror films can be. A sombre glob of urbanised folklore that could sit proudly in Milo’s own battered library of VHS Vampires classics.
However, be warned, it’s also a challenging dose of nihilistic equilibria that emotionally drains at the same rate it artistically replenishes.
Vampirism, Horror, Urban Drama | USA, 2016 | 97 mins | | Front Row/Strand Releasing, Thunderbird Releasing | US Cinemas 7th April. 2017 |UK Cinemas 21st April. 2017 | Dir. Michael O’Shea| Cast. Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Jelly Bean