The Transfiguration, writer-director Michael O’Shea’s debut feature, is an interesting take on the modern day vampire movie; part horror, part gritty ghetto realism, part sweet coming-of-age love story. It follows young loner Milo (Eric Ruffin) who lives in the wrong side of town with his older brother following the death of their parents. It’s the start of summer holidays and Milo is experimenting with young love and the odd dash of vampirism.
Milo is obsessed with vampire movies. He awkwardly bonds with Sophie (Chloe Levine), the new girl in his building, by telling her about his favourite vampire movies. He likes George A. Romero’s Martin (1978) as it is “realistic”. Sophie likes Twilight (2008). Milo says it’s not realistic as vampires don’t sparkle. They bond in awkward young love while Milo quenches his thirst for blood by carefully stalking strangers in Central Park. Just as you might say to yourself, “this is a bit like Let the Right One In (2008)”, Milo asks Sophie, “have you ever seen Let the Right One In?”. The Transfiguration doesn’t as much wear its influences on its sleeve rather than dust off old VHS copies and force you to watch them.
Romero’s video nasty Martin is key influence here. In Martin Romero aimed to create a realistic vampire with the Pittsburgh based white youth who feeds in blood with the aid of razor blades. O’Shea borrows that premise and shifts it to a rough, predominantly black housing project in New York. Like in Martin murder is commonplace here, just not the kind of murder that the main character deals in. Milo also references that other murderous New York loner Travis Bickle, when on a date of sorts with Sophie he sits her down to watch YouTube videos and instead shows her videos of animals being slaughtered.
The references can become overwhelming to the point where it feels O’Shea was trying to reference as many great vampire movies of the past rather than create an original movie (this is somewhat forgivable when it results in the movie’s incredible Nosferatu themed poster). However, when The Transfiguration moves on from this it delivers some truly great moments, some with nerve wracking tension and one truly shocking and disturbing stalk and assault scene. It builds to a climax that is inevitable and devastating yet makes the decision whether this is a horror movie or a bleak drama. The possibility of a further scene is teased but it depends on what kind of horror fan you are if you want the movie to go that far.
As Milo, Eric Ruffin is a startling and strangely endearing presence. Small, withdrawn, scared of his surroundings, yet fearless and dangerous as he stalks his prey and keeping up his journal with his “rules of hunting”. Chloe Levine as Sophie is an excellent foil for Milo. Charming and more mature yet equally as damaged, she uses the razor blade on herself rather than strangers. In a movie that strives to create a “realistic” vampire, it succeeds in creating a real relationship between the two through natural performances and conversation.
The Transfiguration is a strange and unsettling experience. While it may get too bogged down in its own references, it has enough tense scenes that are so distressing and unforgettable that this could have turned out to be a modern classic. Instead, The Transfiguration is a bleak drama with two great young performances and a surprisingly endearing story of young love at its heart.