Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Transfiguration – review

Director: Michael O'Shea

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

There has been a small buzz around the Transfiguration but, to be candidly honest, not so much of a buzz as I might have expected having seen the film. A drama, perhaps, more than a horror it walks a line close to arthouse without stepping fully into that arena and is incredibly self-knowing.

It does not feature a vampire – as in the supernatural creature – but rather a person convincing themselves that they are a vampire and searching with the media vampire genre for answers that it, as a genre, doesn’t contain. It lacks the ambiguity of the magnificent Martin but owes much to the movie – and openly says so.

the victim
It starts with a slurping noise coming from a bathroom stall. A man at a urinal hears it, looks under the stall and sees two sets of feet and comes to a conclusion. However, in the stall a young teen, Milo (Eric Ruffin), is suckling at the man’s open neck. When he is done he takes the money from the man’s wallet and has blood on his mouth. On the train home Milo writes in a book and at home he marks a circled spot on a calendar – his feeding routine. He watches a nature show (he likes to see animal death it appears) and keeps a bag of stolen money hidden behind VHS tapes of vampire films (incongruously he has a recording on VHS of Dracula Untold, a film from way past the VHS era and, of course, he would be able to get the digital file on his computer).

Eric Ruffin as Milo
So Milo is our vampire and I don’t really want to get too much into the story as the film is more a character study. We do see him vomit (after eating cereal but it is clearly the earlier ingested blood he brings up). We see him with a school psychologist, where he is asked about hurting animals, and admits he thinks about it – indicating he was previously caught doing just that. He is clearly the target of bullies at school – interestingly they call him “little bitch”. Later in the film he mentions how good (though not realistic) Let the Right One In is. The phrasing reminds one more of Let Me In as the bullies in the Swedish film use the term “little piggy” but the bullies in the US version use “Little girl” – “little bitch” seems a more pejorative but still gender specific attack. The gangbangers near his apartment call him Freak.

Chloe Levine as Sophie
He shares the apartment with his brother Lewis (Aaron Moten), their father having died of a disease and their mother being a suicide (it sounds like Lewis was in the forces and returned to take care of his brother but had previously run with the gangbangers). It is the suicide that shapes Milo as a vampire – remembering that in folklore suicide can create the vampire, in this case the suicide rests in her grave and it is Milo, who found the body, tasted blood from her slit wrist and can now (as a vampire) not die by suicide himself – it’s a rule. Into his world comes a girl (her race a repeated dialogue point) called Sophie (Chloe Levine, Innocence) and her arrival feels like a mirror image of Let the Right One In/Let Me In – female human moves into the realm of a male vampire. She self harms by cutting, and he does try to taste her blood when he finds her doing that, something she calls gross… but sweet.

Larry Fessenden in cameo
The genre points are thick and fast and for a film that is set in New York it didn’t have that specific New York feel that many other films do (for instance Nadja or Habit). Rather the photography feels more tonally like Martin – which was shot in Pittsburgh, and Milo lists Martin amongst his favourite vampire films. That said the great Larry Fessenden, director and star of Habit, makes a cameo appearance within the film.

video collection
The pace feels similar to that of Martin, as well, though as the film is more self-knowing so is the primary character; in many respects Milo is who Martin would have been if the latter had been more self-composed. Eric Ruffin is stoic as Milo but imbues the character with pathos, intelligence and offers a great sense of timing. Chloe Levine counterpoints with a character that is more obviously damaged, vulnerable and yet sweetly innocent (whilst worryingly worldly in some ways). Director Michael O'Shea actually puts a genuinely shocking moment into the end sequence, which underlines Milo’s own self-awareness. A necessary film for the vampire fan’s collection. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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