THE TRANSFIGURATION (USA/TBC/97mins)
Directed by Michael O’Shea. Starring Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Lloyd Kaufmann, Larry Fessenden, Dangelo Bonneli, Danny Flaherty
THE PLOT: 14 year old Milo (Eric Ruffin) lives alone with his brother; his mother having committed suicide and their father having died when Milo was young. A quiet and lonesome teenager, Milo is harbouring a dark secret; he believes himself to be a vampire.
THE VERDICT: ‘The Transfiguration’ is screening at Un Certain Regard – a sidebar of the main Cannes Competition – and is a film from first time director Michael O’Shea. The film is an examination of grief, loss and the feeling of being an outsider, through the lens of one of the most romantic and isolated mythical creatures of all time; the vampire.
Eric Ruffin is magnetic in the lead role as Milo; quiet and gentle, Milo just wants to be left alone to watch violent nature videos on YouTube until he befriends another outsider in his neighbourhood, Sophie (Chloe Levine). Ruffin makes Milo a curious character, and easily conveys the swings in his beliefs and thought processes, even as he vomits blood and walks around in the day time, the audience is engaged with the fact that he believes himself to be something other than human. As well as this, Ruffin makes Milo’s emotional detachment something for the audience to engage with, as we struggle to learn more about this strange character. Chloe Levine makes Sophie an average teenager; slightly older than Milo she is not fazed by much, even when he consistently talks about vampires she takes this on board, recommending he read her favourite vampire book; ‘Twilight’. Levine makes Sophie feel real, and like any other normal teenager who doesn’t quite understand the world around her yet. The rest of the cast features Dangelo Bonneli, Danny Flaherty and Aaron Clifton Moten, with cameos from horror filmmakers Lloyd Kaufman and Larry Fessenden.
Michael O’Shea’s screenplay deliberately leaves the truth about Milo ambiguous, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions about the character, even as he kills and drinks blood. The story is clearly one of Milo coming to terms with the death of his mother by suicide, as is made clear through Milo’s vampire mythology – vampirism is a disease you contract; you don’t have to be bitten – and explains his emotional detachment from the world around him. The dialogue feels natural, with the teens talking about books, films and the tragedies that have marred their young lives, and how they relate to the world around them.
As director, Michael O’Shea makes a new kind of vampire film in ‘The Transfiguration’. All slow paced and slow build, the film is one that sucks – sorry! – the audience in and keeps us intrigued to find out just what is happened to this withdrawn boy who has no problem with violence and death. The performances are strong, the cinematography underlining just how alone Milo and Sophie feel in the world they cannot really relate to, and the music is used sparingly to great and chilling effect. Setting ‘The Transfiguration’ in an unstylised, natural feeling world is what makes it so special, since this teen could be someone living next door, and his struggle could well happen to any one of us if we were emotionally neglected enough.
In all, ‘The Transfiguration’ is a slow building vampire drama, that makes its greatest statements through ambiguity. The cast are strong and although the pacing is slow, this underlines the isolation the characters feel and builds to a satisfying and surprising end. Keep an eye out for the name Michael O’Shea; you will be hearing it again.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - The Transfiguration
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0satisfying &surprising
  • filmbuff2011

    In a ridiculously overcrowded week of 10 new releases, a film like The Transfiguration will most likely get lost in the crush. But there’s something unique about this film that makes it worth tracking down, particularly if you’re a horror aficionado.

    With his parents long dead, troubled teenager Milo (Eric Ruffin) lives with his brother in New York. He’s a quiet and curious kid, but there’s also something a bit off about him too. Milo is obsessed with vampires and their lore. He watches horror movies and identifies with the undead villain rather than the hero. In a sense, he wants to be a vampire but lacks the fangs and is very much alive. So, he acts out his obsession by attacking people in remote locations and drinking their blood. When he meets new neighbour Sophie (Chloe Levine), he forms an immediate bond with her. She thinks vampires are the sparkly, vegetarian kind from Twilight, so he educates her on what vampires are actually meant to be. Sophie has her own troubles at home, so the two become close and protect each other. But when Milo’s actions and thirst for blood grow increasingly risky, their relationship comes under threat…

    Brooklyn-born director Michael O’Shea blagged his way into the Cannes Film Festival with his debut here. It’s not hard to imagine it appealing to a Cannes jury though, as it’s suitably oblique and not entirely all there. It’s an off-kilter urban horror that is very grounded in mundane reality. Twilight this ain’t. Kudos to O’Shea though, who also writes here. He certainly knows his vampire films and stories, referencing the likes of Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla (famously adapted into a saucy trilogy by Hammer), Nosferatu, Fright Night, Near Dark and two in particular – Let The Right One In and Martin. You can certainly see the influences of those two here. The former is reflected in the strange relationship between Milo and Sophie. George A. Romero’s minor 1978 classic Martin is similar, in that it also relates a boy who wants to be a vampire.

    Horror fans like this one will nod in knowing agreement at what the film is trying to say about Milo and his dangerous behaviour. O’Shea takes the film in his own direction though, giving it its own distinctive stamp. The pacing of the film does sag in the middle though and the plot can slow down to a vampire’s upside-down crawl down a castle wall. That’s a bit frustrating. The editing could do with some tightening up, to give it a bit more punch. When the sudden bursts of violence do come though, they’re messy and hurried as they would be in real life. Human beings being horrible to each other is scarier than any supernatural creature from beyond the grave. With a title that alludes to Milo potentially changing into something greater, this film is smart enough to make its point at the end without ramming it home with a stake through the heart. The Transfiguration is a real curio, but that makes it all the more intriguing. ***