DIR/WRI: Michael O’Shea • PRO: Susan Leber • DOP: Sung Rae Cho • ED: Kathryn J. Schubert • DES: Danica Pantic • MUS: Margaret Chardiet • CAST: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Jelly Bean
Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a teenager with a lot on his plate. He’s still coming to terms with his mother’s suicide while dealing with school, local gangs, and taking care of his older brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten). When Sophie (Chloe Levine), an inquisitive and friendly girl, moves to his tenement to live with her abusive grandfather, he must also quickly learn to navigate the murky waters of dating, all the while acting as the sole breadwinner in his house.
He may also be a vampire.
Starting as Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration does, with Milo explicitly in an unusual altercation in a public bathroom stall with a grown man – rather than engaging in any kind of sexual act, he is instead drinking the blood of the man who is dead or dying – the film still elides any certainty, instead challenging the viewer to decide what is happening. Milo, we soon learn, strives to find the most “realistic” vampire he can, obsessively watching Hammer films and nature documentaries alike in an attempt to find evidence of vampires in real life. He also attacks and kills one stranger each month to assuage his cravings. Are we watching the life of an honest-to-God vampire, one who still has to take out the bins and pay the bills, or is Milo a deranged fantasist, roaming the streets in search of a fix?
Eric Ruffin’s performance is a key part in demonstrating this uncertainty, with his brilliant portrayal of Milo as an infinitely patient and placid individual one minute and suddenly violent and implacatable the next. It’s one of the reasons why the film’s jump scares are so effective, as they often signify a change in Milo’s perspective rather than just a device to shock the audience.
Having another horror film with a black protagonist after the recent triumph of Get Out is very much welcome, and hints at further possibilities in the genre. Indeed, while Get Out was wildly successful for playing with already established tropes, The Transfiguration is more of an experimental beast. While Milo’s vampirism is disturbing, when seen in comparison to the violent acts perpetrated by the local gangs, it almost seems tame. In one of the film’s standout moments, the classic horror set-up – a typical trespassing frat bro looking to party – leads to a far more down-to-earth conclusion than would otherwise be expected.
There has been a recent run of successful horror movies from first-time directors, and O’Shea’s The Transfiguration is no exception. Ingeniously blending conventions of realism with those of horror cinema, O’Shea has created a remarkable commentary on modern society: one in which horror itself is in many ways more desirable to that of reality. At its heart, The Transformation is the plight of a young man who has been made to feel a leech or, indeed, bloodsucker, on society throughout his whole life. It’s perhaps no surprise that he would grow to imagine himself in such monstrous terms.
15A (See IFCO for details)
The Transfiguration is released 28th April 2017