Black teenager Milo (Eric Ruffian) is vampire who lives in the projects – or is he. Each month, he goes on the prowl, targeting seedy scum with a pocket knife and drinking their blood. However, things get increasingly more complex when he becomes romantically involved with Sophie (Chloe Levine), a damaged soul with problems of her own, as well as a group of local drug pushers.
A surprise inclusion at Cannes last year – writer-director Michael O’Shea’s debut is an interesting one. Although he wears his influences on his sleeve – even mentioning works like George A. Romero’s Martin and Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One in within the movie – he builds a nice atmosphere. Quiet scenes of observation, sudden graphic violence and very deadpan comedy all intermingle in a way which evokes some comparison to the work of Takeishi Kitano – something which is quite rare in a world of vampire flicks.
Yet despite The Transfiguration’s offbeat, eclectic mood – something aided by fine turns by Ruffian and Levine who really sell their character’s quiet and strange romance – the film feels more like a collection of ideas than a coherent narrative. At one point, O’Shea appears to be comparing vampirism to the eating of meat – Milo and Sophie in an odd meet-cute watch animals being killed for food on Youtube. Other moments seem to suggest a commentary linking vampirism to sex, as well as depression. There is a scene of casual racism where a white stoner derides his girlfriend for trying to buy E off a project drug dealer, stating “They don’t sell molly”. All of these things are intermittingly interesting but their jumbled nature leaves the film feeling more like a padded out half hour movie than a feature.
Also, O’Shea withholds a little too much from the audience to make us truly care what happens to the characters. Milo throughout speaks with little emotion in his voice – something which works for comedy as he rambles on about Twilight being “unrealistic” but doesn’t quite succeed during dramatic moments, leaving the movie feeling a little dry and cold.
The Transfiguration ultimately won’t work for everyone. It’s too airy and intangible, not providing enough recognisable beats for mainstream audiences to grasp on to. That said, film buffs who enjoy watching horror tropes being subverted and played with may get a kick out of O’Shea’s debut as it passingly evokes memories of Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction or Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Stephen Porzio