The Transfiguration (Movie Review)

The Transfiguration (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: When Milo (Eric Ruffin), a lonely teenager with an escalating obsession with vampirism, befriends an equally strange girl named Sophie (Chloe Levine), a moral dilemma arises that will alter their lives forever.

REVIEW: With only a single short film to his name until now, Brooklyn-based writer/director Michael O’Shea has built a bold, morally pensive tale of DIY vampirism in THE TRANSFIGURATION, an effort that deserves admirable attention as a first time feature. Although far from great, or even all that groundbreaking, there’s a raw, unvarnished realism and a tactile practicality to the piece that comes as a refreshing antidote to the sparkly glitterati that has softened the age old horror villain in the past decade or so. And O’shea does this quite openly, citing TWILIGHT and True Blood as lifelessly ersatz stand-ins for “realistic” vampire classics like NOSFERATU, MARTIN, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, etc. Despite dragging a bit in spots, despite opting for the restrained over the histronic, if you’re one to favor the latter over the former, then you’re bound to be, at least in part, aptly enraptured by THE TRANSFIGURATION. Keep an eye out for its limited release this Friday, April 7th!

Milo (Eric Ruffin) is an odd little fellow, aged 15 or so. With both parents long since deceased, he lives in a project tenement with his older brother Lewis (Aaron Moten). Lonely, friendless, Milo has a rather unhealthy obsession with all things vampiric. As the film opens, we find the kid inhaling fresh blood from a strange man’s gouged carotid in a bathroom stall. When he gets home, he vomits the blood, notes the progress he’s making in his log-book and begins voraciously reading vampire literature and re-watching his collection of old VHS tapes, among them THE LOST BOYS, FRIGHT NIGHT, NEAR DARK (what-up Eric Red!) DRACULA UNTOLD (now that's devotion) and others. The kid is deeply dedicated to studying the mores of vampire immortality and how best to go about personally achieving it. He’s also fascinated by  the nature channel and its cold depictions of relentless, animalistic killing. In marking the calendar for an impending full moon, it becomes clear Milo has grand designs of some deleterious sort.

Enter Sophie (Chloe Levine), a psoriatic wrist-cutter with also nary a friend. Upon meeting Milo, the two strike an instant bond, the kind that’s instantly aromatic of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, the granular intimacy of adolescence in particular. Knowing the similarities, O’Shea wisely undercuts a criticism of cribbing the superb Swedish flick by having Milo call it out by name. See, Milo is only interested in the most realistic depictions of vampires. He isn’t into the fake, phony, artificial type that’s been propagated across pop-culture all too often in the last several years. Sophie tries to get him to read and watch TWILIGHT and True Blood, but Milo wisely resists, lamenting how inherently apocryphal they seem. Yet, as time goes, the two kids grow closer. They get drunk together, ride the subway, overlook the city, ruminate about the future, and eventually become sexually intimate. In fact, the closer the two become, the higher the principal conflict of the movie escalates. And the moral quandary is this: with his penchant for human blood reaching an unavoidable level, can Milo resist the urge to harm his new friend, or should he act on his newfound primal vampiric urges as a measure of his own self-preservation? Not to ruin anything, but what transpires is both sad and beautiful.

What I dig most about THE TRANSFIGURATION is the very thing Milo likes about his own favorite vampire fiction: the unflinching verisimilitude. This isn’t a tired vampire flick dependent on this played-out historical lore of grown fangs, holy water, strands of garlic, wooden stakes or anything of the sort. No, this is a more authentic inspection of what it might be like if one chose to rigorously abide by the dietary lifestyle of a vampire as a means of slowly becoming one. And thanks to the precociously credible performance by Eric Ruffin as Milo, it registers quite feasibly. Hey plays the part with an even keel – never too high or too low, never too likable or too detestable - that lends itself to feeling believable throughout. The thing is, there’s a tradeoff for this sort of realism. By grounding the action in the realm of the natural, not the supernatural, there tends to be a lack of enthrallment to it all that may irk some demanding horror fans. There are no wild set-pieces, eye-popping showdowns or extreme outbursts of violence that you might expect from a more fantastical vampire flick. There’s nothing silly or over the top about any aspect of the film, which, in conjunction with a few drags in the middle of the movie, may come off to some as a bit tedious. Personally, I enjoyed the atypicality.

At a bare minimum, THE TRANSFIGURATION serves writer/director Michael O’Shea as one to most certainly watch moving forward. At full maximum, the flick deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a venerated subset of authentic vampire tales most of us have come to know and love. It’s a thoughtful micro-examination on the nascence of becoming an immortal bloodsucker, a knowing and heartfelt one at that. The movie both lovingly references and harshly repudiates traditional tropes and tenets of vampire fiction, doing do in a way that feels appreciably new. Again, a lot of this works because of Eric Ruffin’s grounded performance, even when a few dull spots threaten to sap the overall excitement of the piece. Bottom line is this: if you appreciate smaller, more intimate character examinations back-dropping a realistic horror story, do wise and undergo THE TRANSFIGURATION yourself. If not, why not?

Extra Tidbit: THE TRANSFIGURATION enters select theaters Friday, April 7th.
Source: AITH



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