Release Date: April 21st, 2017
Production: Transfiguration Productions
Directed by: Michael O'Shea
Starring: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Clifton Moten, Carter Redwood, and Danny Flaherty
When you hear the word “vampire”, what comes to mind? Gary Oldman in a bouffant wig being fought off by Keanu Reeves and Anthony Hopkins? Imagining Robert Pattinson being staked? Whatever your association with “vampire,” it’s not what you’ll get from The Transfiguration.
Similar to the word association game with vampire, “coming-of-age story” also has its connotations: The Edge of Seventeen because I just watched it and Now and Then are the most notable examples in my head. While The Transfiguration is a coming-of-age story, it couldn’t be more different from what we normally see of teen angst and awkwardness. From here on, there will be spoilers.
We open on Milo (Eric Ruffin) drinking the blood of GENERIC BUSINESS MAN in a train station bathroom. From there, we see the awkward teen traverse New York City on his own—older brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten) is dealing with his own issues (PTSD) and we find out that their mother killed herself several years prior. Milo’s obsession with vampires (notably referenced are John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In and George A. Romero’s Martin to which there are many parallels throughout the movie) becomes apparent through his movie and book collections, diaries, and décor. Realism, he says on several occasions, in vampire stories and lore is important to him. Considering this, his fascination with online videos of animal nature and slaughterhouses is expected: we think we have a vampire embracing his roots and trying to find his place in the world. The former, however, is not the case.
Upon meeting Sophie (Chloe Levine) and watching her *ahem* escapades… on the beach, we start to get into what the movie is truly about: teens learning about themselves, their place in the world (particularly class), and coping with these traumatic endeavors and experiences. Where Chloe copes with an abusive grandfather by cutting and drinking, Milo copes with losing his mother, living in the projects surrounded by violence, and a traumatized brother by killing, justifying it to himself that he has no choice because he’s a vampire. Milo shows himself to be smarter and more self-aware than the average teen, even through the movie’s not-all-unsurprising conclusion.
Overall, the movie is masterfully shot with wide and off kilter angles that make the setting an important part of the story. The Transfiguration is something you’d expect from a veteran writer/director but this was Michael O’Shea’s debut film (see my review of Get Out for another great debut). I expected a horror flick and was surprised that this was more a dark drama. Ruffin’s stoic and serious portrayal of Milo was unbelievably well-acted but I wish O’Shea had gotten out of the shadow of what Romero and Linqvist have already given us.