The Transfiguration (2016)

Transfiguration 05

“When troubled teen Milo, who has a fascination with vampire lore, meets the equally alienated Sophie, the two form a bond that begins to blur Milo’s fantasy into reality.” — IMDb

I’m a bit blown away that a gem of this magnitude would be available to view on Netflix, but even more so that this is writer and director Michael O’Shea’s film debut. It’s a poignant masterpiece, just skirting the lines of horror in a traditional sense but in reality, all the necessary qualities are there, maybe even in more abundance than in your everyday slasher.

The film follows young teen Milo (Eric Ruffin) as he navigates life as he imagines it should be for a vampire. When he meets Sophie (Chloe Levine), he is suddenly forced to think about someone outside of himself, and the gradual awakening brings him to an inevitable epiphany…


This movie is just… oof. So good. For once I don’t want to talk TOO much about it because I really just want you to see it for yourself.

The similarity to Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night hit me right away. It is in no way your typical vampire movie — despite the abundance of references to classics such as Martin and Let the Right One In — but much of the horror lies in its stark reality.

Ruffin gives such a powerful performance, and much of his presence is in his silent moments… for a majority of the movie he’s in his own head, so the fact that he’s able to convey such loneliness, such isolation, such calculated intelligence, is a testament to this young actor’s talent.

The story as a whole is heartbreaking on so many levels. Milo has been abandoned enough that he must be losing track. His father got sick when he was 6 and succumbed to his illness two long years later — a death that Milo describes as a “release”. His mother slit her wrists. His brother clearly suffers from some form of PTSD or at least depression from his time in the military, rendering him unable to do much besides camp on the couch in front of the TV. The very society that Milo lives in — is suffocated by — is designed to, at best, exclude him, and at worst intentionally leave him behind, whether it be behind the average or behind bars. It’s unclear how old he is exactly, but you get the feeling throughout the entire film that he’s far too young to be as independent as he’s been forced to.

It was shot beautifully. The slight shake to the camera at times paired with the distant view gives you the feeling of voyeurism, almost like we’re seeing something we aren’t supposed to. The camera pans briefly around a car or a hot dog cart and it feels like we as the audience are the ones holding it. Despite being shot in New York City there’s an anonymity to Milo’s existence, an invisibility, that just feels so bleak.

When Milo pairs up with Sophie, there’s this glimmer of hope, this thought that maybe he’ll be changed by a genuine human connection. The first movie they see, Nosferatu, provides some clue as we see the text on the screen: “Only a virtuous woman, who gives her blood by choice, can end the curse of Nosferatu.”. This winds up being more true than I could have guessed.

I think the real horror lies in seeing just how desperate Milo is for some direction, some meaning, in his life. An early conversation with his school counselor reveals that harming and killing others — initially just animals — is something that has been somewhat of a hobby for him for an undetermined amount of time. Maybe it’s his own form of release, maybe it’s misdirected rage at his circumstances, maybe it’s an effort to force himself to feel — and we do see signs of him feeling remorse, there’s a sense of him sinking into something unfathomable. But as we see more of Milo’s surroundings, more of his community, we see that the violence itself isn’t the unusual part, just the lore that he’s focused on to shroud it in. The gangbangers in the housing project routinely refer to him as a “freak”, unable to see how alike they truly are.

But the ending was a deep, dramatic wound. His drawings during class shifting to obsessively drawing suns, his selflessness in making sure Sophie got out of her abusive home, his clever set up for his own demise… brilliant. The fact that I so badly wanted to see his eyes open while he laid on that autopsy slab, or to see him unzip his body bag from the inside, or his hand to slide out from under the plain pine box he’s buried in. It turning out that he is indeed this legendary creature and not just a child left behind would have been less heart-wrenching, less horrifying.

Just a beautiful, thought-provoking, melancholic piece of work. I cannot wait to see what O’Shea comes up with next.

Rating: 8.5/10 | Director: Michael O’Shea | Writer: Michael O’Shea | Music: Margaret Chardiet | Cinematography: Sung Rae Cho | Starring: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Aaron Moten

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