If you ever wondered what it would look like if Harmony Korine were to make a vampire movie, The Transfiguration would be your answer. Michael O’Shea‘s directorial debut is a refreshingly original entry into the genre, despite its loyalty to the vampire roots, as well as the numerous direct references peppered throughout. Much like its spiritual predecessor, Let The Right One In (2008), The Transfiguration‘s bloodsucker comes in the form of a strange and troubled child amidst a modern, urban landscape.
Milo (Eric Ruffin) lives in a small New York City apartment with his only remaining family; his depressed, lethargic veteran older brother. When he’s not watching vampire movies and gruesome internet videos (the likes of which you’d find on 4chan or LiveLeak), Milo methodically plans his next victim and lays out detailed rules for hunting. Devoid of friends, he’s known as the neighborhood freak, and is constantly heckled by the gang that resides in his building until Sophie (Chloe Levine) comes along. Having originally taken interest in her as a potential victim, Milo’s world is shaken by the attraction that he feels toward her. Sophie, similarly the child of a broken home, is just as troubled and alone as Milo. She moves in with her abusive grandfather just a few floors above Milo and his brother. The two quickly become best friends, roaming the streets together and taking swigs from bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. As time goes Milo’s urges grow stronger, and his victims begin to weigh heavily on his conscience.
The style that O’Shea employs with this film is heavily reminiscent of Larry Clark‘s Kids (1995) (written by Harmony Korine). Milo and Sophie travel around the city together, drinking and discussing life, without anyone to answer to, or any real destination in sight, much like Kids’ Telly and Casper. The camerawork is entirely shakycam, raw and desaturated, and often shoots from angles that appear to be almost voyeuristic. Similar to much of Korine’s subject matter, The Transfiguration is an awkward, offbeat coming of age story in a raw and realistic sense, rather than the comedically endearing way it’s portrayed in such movies as Superbad (2007) or American Pie (1999). Here it’s used in a way that’s borderline uncomfortable to watch, which is consistent with many of the film’s more brutal scenes.
The opening scene – being one of these – introduces us to Milo as he loudly slurps blood from some guy’s jugular in a public bathroom. And the kills only get more brutal from there on out. In one of O’Shea’s most direct references, he essentially recreates one of the more memorable kills in Let The Right One In. I originally found this reference to be a bit heavy-handed, until it’s made clear that Milo actually used the film as a guideline to lure that victim to his death, which made its blatancy more acceptable.
One aspect of this movie that I’m not sure was intentional, but that I found intriguing nonetheless, is the ambiguity of Milo’s character. By the third act I began to question whether the boy was an “actual” vampire, or just a disturbed sociopath so obsessed with the notion of vampires that he mentally “became” one. This question arises due to Milo’s lack of all vampiric qualities except the desire for blood. There are no fangs, no sensitivity to light, and no indication that he’s any other age than he physically appears to be. This question is never answered, and may just as well be the product of my over-analyzing the character. In any case, it in no way detracts from the film itself, but rather makes it all the more interesting.
The Transfiguration‘s use of vampirism as a way to parallel Milo’s social status as an orphaned outcast is what really gives the film its charm. His loneliness and apathy manifest in bloodlust rather than self-harm, which is the case for Sophie. O’Shea has successfully crafted a love letter to vampire classics while relating the film back to a modern, relevant standpoint. Aside from some very minor problems I had with editing here and there, this movie was a treat to watch.