Transfiguration, The (2017)


Starring Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Clifton Moten and Carter Redwood.

Directed by Michael O’Shea

If you want to stir up any collection of horror fans all you have to do is ask the question, “What makes a movie a horror movie?” Within seconds you’ll be given numerous “definitions” of what constitutes horrific cinema. Some will tell you that a film without blood isn’t horror. Others might contend that a horror film must involve death of some type. Some will swear that it is, in fact, the supernatural that makes something “true” horror.

The reason for this dissonance is that the very nature of the genre relies on the individual fears of its audience. Every fan brings a different set of expectations when they seek the thrill of terror. Any such discussion may be moot, however, if you consider the opinion of one of horror’s greatest artists, John Carpenter, who had this to say on the subject: “Horror is a reaction; it’s not a genre.”  

Bearing this quote in mind, The Transfiguration is most definitely a horror movie. With quiet characters and themes that are heavily grounded in reality, it might be easy to mistake it for something it’s not, but be assured… this tragic tale about the transformative power of urban decay and personal loss might not make your body recoil, but your soul will most certainly react.

Taking influence from George Romero’s classic vampire film Martin as well as Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration tells the story of Milo, a boy living in the inner city, who is obsessed with vampires and vampire fiction. Milo has become convinced that he is slowly turning into a vampire and is attempting to learn as much as he can in preparation for this change. When a young woman named Sophie moves into Milo’s building and a friendship forms between them, Milo begins to consider the consequences of his transformation.

Writer/director Michael O’Shea certainly swung for the fences with this, his debut effort. The sadness of the grim reality he built for this feature almost radiates off the screen. His characters positively hum with genuine life, and watching them interact never feels anything less than honest. In a commendable example of self-control, O’Shea allows his perfectly chosen cast the necessary screen time to carefully unpack these delightfully complex characters. He deftly dodges any preconceived notions the viewer may have and, in doing so, demands they pay close attention. This story is as much in what isn’t said as it is in what is. There are several powerful scenes that are carried by facial expressions alone. The most impressive strength O’Shea displays is his understanding of when to keep the audience separated from the underlying horrors at play and when to place them right into the thick of it. To get them used to whispers before letting loose with discordant shouts.

For their respective parts both young leads, Eric Ruffin and Chloe Levine, give stellar performances. If either of these roles had been filled by a weak performer, the movie just wouldn’t work. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Ruffin, in particular, commands the screen with a performance that seems far beyond his years. He takes a character that displays almost no emotion and somehow makes you perfectly understand his inner conflict and abiding pain. He works in glances and stares like great painters work in oils. An almost unbelievable exhibition of talent that might even deserve Academy consideration. It’s that good.

To match this haunting performance, Chloe Levine brings a charm and innocence to the screen that belies her character’s own flawed and broken interior. She is just as lonely, if not lonelier, than Milo; and her own tragic circumstances have transformed her into something pitiable as well. Her approach to dealing with her own problems, however, stands in stark contrast to Milo’s and offers him an option he long thought impossible. Contentment. While Eric Ruffin was tasked with making you believe in Milo’s transformation into something evil, Levine was tasked with making you believe that something beautiful could bring about a more positive metamorphosis. She achieves just that.

The film takes place within the backdrop of inner city New York. This setting is crucial to the plot as it plays just as much into Milo’s condition as circumstance. The violent world around him and the predatory nature of those within it have turned this quiet, introspective young man into a cold, calculated killer. As much as Get Out was a commentary on the subtle racism and irrational fears that black Americans sometimes face in the company of white people, The Transfiguration is a study of what it means for black Americans to be forgotten and dispossessed in the inner city. To struggle against pervading evil and a system that treats you as an afterthought. Milo’s desire to no longer feel helpless in the face of this reality is what truly begins his change. O’Shea’s authentic representation of this world is more matter-of-fact than exploitative and only adds to the realism he sought to achieve.

The Transfiguration is a remarkable film. Powerful, intense, emotionally raw, and best of all completely horrific. Michael O’Shea has made a mark here that will hopefully catapult him into the forefront of cinema. This is a film that will undoubtedly get noticed and will assuredly find its way onto many “Best of 2017” lists at the end of the year. It is a vampire film that would satisfy its protagonist’s unyielding desire for realism and will leave viewers floored at the emotional journey it takes them on. Seek it out and prepare yourself for something special because this is a film that will most certainly cause a reaction.

  • Film
User Rating 3 (3 votes)


Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter