SXSW Film Festival Movie Review: THE TRANSFIGURATION

Vampire folklore has existed for almost as long as man has been able to spin a good yearn. Reaching as far back as the Mesopotamians and Ancient Greeks, stories have been told about blood-drinking creatures. Not until the 18th Century, originating out of Eastern Europe, most notably from Transylvania, did we finally settle on the entity we know today as the vampire. 

THE TRANSFIGURATION grabs that folklore and runs with it, carrying it through its origins, bringing it up to date and dropping it in NYC. Sure, there have been a few bloodsuckers in NYC and vampires in Brooklyn, but this film takes a more unconventional look at the modern vampire. 

The film's focus is on 14-year-old New York teen, Milo. Milo (Eric Ruffin) is an outcast and is constantly being picked on by other kids and local gang members. He lives with his older brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton) in a predominantly black apartment complex. Milo and Lewis were orphaned when both parents passed away, their father from illness, their mother from suicide. 

Milo is an avid fan of vampire lore with an awesome VHS collection including such classics as THE LOST BOYS and NEAR DARK. He also has a preoccupation with slaughterhouse videos and nature footage of predatory animals. He's seeing a school therapist who inquires whether or not he's still hurting animals. He assures the therapist that he is not. So then who, or what, has Milo turned his focus to? 

Milo lives an isolated existence, traveling solo and seldomly speaking to anyone. His relationship with his brother is strained and the people he does interact with threaten and vilify him as an outcast. It's not until he meets fellow lost soul, Sophie (Chloe Levine) that he begins to question if his current life choices are working for him. 

Written and directed by Michael O'Shea, THE TRANSFIGURATION is a fantastic first feature film. It's shot in documentary style, employing a handheld look and embracing its voyeuristic appeal. It's well-made and engaging from start to bitter end. The music is unsettling and effective during scenes that caught me off guard a few times. O'Shea doesn't hold back as he slaps you across the face with confronting material. 

Milo's isolation is beautifully captured in the cinematography. His burgeoning relationship with Sophie has a natural quality to it that doesn't feel forced. O'Shea creates a character that I felt both sorry for and repulsed by. Milo spends the majority of the film disaffect though is ultimately revealed to be remorseful. 

THE TRANSFIGURATION is a coming of age story dealing with the psychology of modern American teen vampire. TWILIGHT it's not, as Milo explains "Vampires don't twinkle." It's more LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - another of his favorites - from which the director drew clear influence. It's not a copy or a remake, but a unique point of view. It's no surprise that it screened as part of the "Un Certain Regard" portion of the Cannes Film Festival. THE TRANSFIGURATION is indie horror done right. 

Cindy Van Wert

THE TRANSFIGURATION will open in New York on Friday, April 7 and Los Angeles on Friday, April 21st