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‘The Transfiguration’ (review)

Produced by Susan Leber
Written and Directed by Michael O’Shea
Starring Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Moten

Milo, the troubled teen of the new indie thriller The Transfiguration, is in a bleak situation.

The shy, socially awkward young man must make an after-school run for home, avoiding violent confrontations from classmate bullies and gangbanger hoods.

Home is a dingy New York City public housing monolith with a broken elevator. The lost boy’s parents are both gone, and his older brother sits day in-and-out on the couch watching mindless television infomercials.

Oh, and he may or may not be a vampire.

As an audience, plunged into the dark, grit of Milo’s POV, we may or may not be watching a vampire movie.

We love our lore, and it’s possibly what will bring us to the movie based on premise alone, but most of us probably know the difference between fact and fiction. What makes The Transfiguration stand out, and unsettlingly so, is its obsession with skewing that view.

Making his feature film debut, writer/director Michael O’Shea has had some great buzz so far, coming off both “Un Certain Regard” selection at Cannes and multiple exhibitions at SXSW.  It helps that there’s a bit of a Moonlight vibe to the setting and story, which was something I heard mumbled by many of the attendees of the later fest.  I’ll just get my pun out there right now and say I’d be happy if the film were remarketed as Let The Moonlight One In.  Try the veal. Rare.

But Transfiguration works on so many levels it’s more in kin with Get Out, another thriller that bends built-in perceptions of race and rampage. The possibly undead Milo is brought to life with a compelling and subtle performance by Eric Ruffin (The Good Wife). That the kid looks 9 and acts 29 is brilliant casting, but its Ruffin’s ability to convince you of a deeper dialogue going on inside Mili’s head.

That dialogue is fixated on vampires, but not the sparkling ones because they’re “not realistic.” But Milo’s seemingly innocent love for more realistic vampire movies, as he regards Near Dark and Let The RIght One In, isn’t his emergence as a cinephile as it is a sociopath. Turns out, he’s killing people, luring them in with a set of rules shaped by the legendary bloodsuckers of movies, books and cultural history.

About halfway into the film, I was reminded of George A. Romero’s early sort-of vampire film Martin, and no less than five minutes after that Milo mentions the film as being “pretty good and realistic.”  This is where O’Shea gets under your skin. The kid on screen (and behind the camera) knows his stuff.

As a teenager with a growing obsession over horror films, there’s probably a point when your new friend asks you to watch Faces of Death after school. If that new friend might be enjoying it for other reasons, that would be real horror since most of us know when it’s time to put aside the Fangoria as fact. In The Transfiguration, Milo’s a terrific anti-hero, often uncomfortable to watch when things get real, which is pretty often.

 

Opens in New York on Friday, April 7th at the Angelika Film Center
Opens in Los Angeles on Friday, April 21st at The Nuart Theatre
National release to follow
For More Details visit thetransfigurationfilm.com

 

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