Michael O’Shea’s directorial debut, The Transfiguration, had its SXSW premiere March 11, 2017 and its world premiere at Cannes Film Festival in 2016. The film stars Eric Ruffin (The Good Wife, The Grief of Others), Chloe Levine (Sugar!, The OA), and Aaron Clifton Moten (Mozart in the Jungle, The Night Of).
Milo (Ruffin) is an outcast teenage boy living with his brother in New York. With gang violence and poverty all around him, he retreats to his vampire obsession. He locks himself away in his room, reading about vampire lore and watching films, including horror classics like Lost Boys and Nosferatu. As the film opens, we see Milo sucking the blood out of a man’s neck in a public bathroom, killing him. We see him do this several times over the course of the film, as he truly believes he’s a vampire. There is also a flashback to his mother’s suicide in which he brings some of her spilled blood to his lips. The lines of fantasy and reality blur together for the audience and Milo.
The Transfiguration is reminiscent of Let the Right One In when Milo meets fellow outcast teen, Sophie (Levine). He even refers back to the film several times. Sophie lives with her abusive grandfather in the same apartment complex. To cope, she drinks cheap liquor, has sex with random boys and cuts herself. They find comfort together, but Milo continues to struggle with the things he’s done.
The gritty New York City backdrop was an interesting choice by O’Shea. The setting makes for its own story and brings a very still and tense atmosphere. It doesn’t let up for a minute from start to finish. Even the lighter moments are overshadowed by what may be to come. This is heightened by the fact that Milo keeps a neutral look on his face, barely showing any type of emotion despite serious and violent situations. His demeanor just adds to the heaviness of the film. Both Eric Ruffin and Chloe Levine gave powerful performances and, similar to the young actors in Let the Right One In, handled their mature roles brilliantly.
Make no mistake, The Transfiguration is not a horror film in the traditional sense. The vampire angle has more to do with a disturbed teen’s obsession, as well as the very real violence going on around him. It is a slow-burn that packs a powerful and emotional punch in the end. It’s hard to believe that this is the first film from Michael O’Shea because of everything he was able to accomplish. If you find yourself in the mood for a dramatic horror, The Transfiguration won’t disappoint.