The vampire genre is so extensive because it speaks to all of us on at least one, if not multiple, levels. Whether you fancy yourself a social misfit, a leader, a romantic, an anarchist, a fighter, a member of a family or a lone wolf, there is a vampire story that you can identify with. I don’t care if your vampires are ruthless killers or if they sparkle in the sun; there is a vampire that you consider a kindred spirit. Much like the zombie genre, vampires are often utilized to examine deeper societal issues and The Transfiguration definitely goes deep.
From writer/director Michael O’Shea comes a truly powerful and heartbreaking look at violence, alienation and the very human need to be loved and accepted. Our social misfit in question is Milo and despite giving off that aura of “other”, his big doe eyes and unquestionably sad emotional state make you want to get closer to him, to help him, when what you should be doing is running away as fast as you can because Milo is a serial killer who has moved on from harming animals and is now honing is craft on people. In Milo’s mind, however, he does this because he’s a vampire. He has a truly impressive VHS library of vampire films and he spends his days reading about vampires and filling in journals with all of the knowledge he acquires. Milo believes vampirism to be a disease and he just happens to be one of the unlucky, or is it lucky?, ones to be afflicted with it. Called a freak and bullied by the people who live in the same housing development as him, Milo is just trying to stay alive in a poverty-line world where his mother has committed suicide and his older brother has returned from war a shell of a man. The question of nature vs nurture as it pertains to violence rages around Milo in his everyday life, but the more interesting question is what drives him to believe that he is a part of the undead. And if anyone had actually listened to him and paid real attention to him, could he have been saved?
Keeping a specified schedule of blood drinking and detailed journals of his rules for hunting and general vampire knowledge, Milo seems to be successfully tricking himself into believing he’s a vampire. Just as the edges of reality and fantasy become almost indistinguishable, Milo meets Sophie. Another social outcast, Sophie is a cutter who is living with her physically abusive grandfather and the two quickly become dependent upon one another for that elusive feeling of being understood. As Milo tries to explain to Sophie why he prefers the more realistic vampire stories (i.e.) Martin, Let the Right One In and Near Dark, Sophie tries to give him the hard sell on Twilight and True Blood. Sophie yearns for romance, love and inclusion. Milo yearns for blood, violence and a reason for why he is the way he is.
Eric Ruffin as Milo and Chloe Levine as Sophie are both tremendous in their roles. Each of them shoulder extreme emotional baggage with a maturity well beyond their years and to watch these two lost souls navigate such a cruel world is enthralling and heartbreaking all at once.
O’Shea has no shortage of love for the vampire genre and he takes every opportunity he can to pay respect to the stories that came before his without ever making it feel hokey or gimmicky. As stated previously, Milo heralds Martin as the best and most realistic vampire movie and The Transfiguration is definitely a love letter of sorts to the George Romero classic. I’m going to be honest here and admit that I had never heard of Martin until Milo mentioned it. You can absolutely enjoy one movie without the other, but Martin is an exceptionally layered and beautiful film that should be talked about more often.
In a nod to Let the Right One In, Milo uses a method straight out of that book to lure one of his victims and much like John and Miriam in The Hunger, Milo carries a concealed knife with which to slice his victim’s throats. But his kills are definitely more Nosferatu with their lack of glamor and sex and feel more ravenous than anything. Growing up in the shadow of gang violence and drug dealers, it’s an unusual dilemma to wonder if Milo should have just gone with that instead of vampirism. It seems as though Milo was destined to a life of violence, so I suppose we can at least give him credit for choosing a path of his own making regardless of how twisted it is. But how can all of these different aspects of his life blend together? Simply put, they can’t and as Milo sets off an unusually clever and depressing chain of events, he becomes the master of his fate.
With stretches of silence, lingering shots from afar and some moments of uncomfortably realistic and cruel violence, The Transfiguration examines a modern day killer against the backdrop of the vampire myth all while never letting you forget that we’re all equally vulnerable and easily sullied. In a gritty New York City, we travel with Milo in a movie full of vampiric easter eggs, a couple of blink and you’ll miss them cameos and a devastating ending that will have you hoping for one of those classic, hands reaching up from the grave shots. O’Shea has deftly blended reality with his protagonist’s fantasy in a movie with a whole lot of heart and a whole lot to say. This is a must see.
The Transfiguration is available on VOD (USA) August 8th
Lisa Fremont | Twitter: @lcfremont