REVIEW: The Transfiguration
– By Stephen Harper
“There’s no good vampire films anymore.” Anybody who talks to me (which isn’t many) or gets into a debate with me regarding film, specifically the vampire genre knows these words are often spouted from my lips.
There’s a darn good reason I tell you. Being a huge fan of monster movies from back in the day through to the classic 80’s flicks, I’ve been fortunate to grow up watching the truly iconic monsters and the best vampires there’s ever been. Gorgeously seductive creatures of the night. Frightening but mesmerizing, from Nosferatu to Lee’s Dracula to Bigelow’s Near Dark to Fright Night and, of course, The Lost Boys. As the new Millennium entered, Vampires became a whole different creature. Gone was scary, frightening and mesmerizing and now became twinkling, teen heartthrobs. I’ve discussed the whole Twilight issue before, so I won’t bore you again, but Hollywood’s obsession with coining in teen-orientated franchises and TV drifting into the more True Blood territory, the days when vampires were truly frightening seemed dead and buried.
Now I’m not saying all modern vampire films have been terrible. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 30 Days of Night, Let The Right One In and the wonderful A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night are proof that in the right hands Vampires can still be an amazing movie creature, but there’s been far too many times it’s been devalued and misused because there’s many directors that don’t have that same love or passion for the creature or treat it with the same respect.
This brings me to Michael O’Shea’s new film The Transfiguration. I’ve heard a lot about this film from various reviews from many festivals over the past few months and knew all about its connection to the vampire genre. The film follows Milo. A teen growing up in an extremely tough, deprived neighborhood where gang violence is all too common. He lives with his obviously clinically depressed older brother Lewis as their mother has recently committed suicide. Milo’s only escape is his obsession with vampire lore. He’s totally isolated and basically walks through life without any support apart from snippets of counseling we see him receiving, where it’s been identified he often has thoughts of harming animals. He religiously reads and studies all vampire characteristics, but his fascination isn’t just a hobby. Unbeknownst to everyone, Milo is embarking on a killing spree, meticulously planning and stalking victims to feed his desires. His escapism from the world around him has turned psychotic. He hides in plain sight because of his age. Nobody would ever suspect a child of committing such crimes, but Milo, although reserved is extremely clever in his approach and leaves no trace back to him whatsoever. He’s bullied daily by gangs and seen as a freak, a victim.
Everything changes for Milo the day he meets Sophie, another teen who’s just as isolated and just as much a victim. Sophie lives with her abusive grandfather, but is the victim of sexual abuse the day she meets Milo coincidentally. The two are connected in so many ways, they basically save each other, but are polar opposites, which makes their relationship so endearing.
As the two become closer, unfortunately Milo’s behavior intensifies. His desire to be a vampire overwhelms him and his thoughts succumb him to take more chances, all spiraling up to a wonderfully thought provoking finale.
The Transfiguration isn’t your straightforward vampire horror movie. It’s a very slow burn that focuses more on its characters than delivering jump scares. It brilliantly succeeds because of its willingness to discuss multi-layered issues of race and social economics. O’Shea expertly lets the audience decide their theories regarding Milo’s condition, but he also concocts a character that you can’t help but empathize with considering the atrocities he commits. O’Shea’s sweeping direction is often dream-like against deprivation and gang culture. He captures beauty within the most harshest of backgrounds and with gorgeous cinematography, The Transfiguration is more coming of age story than horror, although the themes on display here are all too realistic, they are true horror.
The film is helped by its stunning performances all around, especially from its two leads. Milo (Eric Ruffin) and Sophie (Chloe Levine) are impeccable. I wasn’t familiar with either previously, but they’re surely superstars in the making? It’s not often two extremely young stars can prop up a film that deals with issues such as these, but it’s all credit to O’Shea and the story and characters he’s crafted.
The Transfiguration is a beautiful movie. Even though I wouldn’t automatically place it into the same category of my all-time favorite vampire films as it’s a completely different beast, it thoroughly deserves to be acknowledged as a reinvention into the vampire mythology. Like I said, in the right hands the vampire genre can be truly mesmerizing again.