Synopsis: 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. (Source)
Growing up as a teenage vampire is tough in Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration. Though the genre has certainly seen better days, O’Shea’s latest is the freshest vampire metaphor we’ve seen in a long while, a sobering look at dead-end lives and the unexpected bonds that form within. Horror fans will find plenty to love with the film’s subversive twist on undead mythology, but it’s the sincere look at rough, urban reality that makes the film really cut. Stars Eric Ruffin and Chloe Levine are disarming as a pair of adolescent, star-crossed lovers, and O’Shea’s commitment to raw realism is unflinching. In the film’s own words, this one’s closer to Let the Right One In than Twilight, and it haunts to the very last second.
Milo (Eric Ruffin) has a tough life, but nothing he can’t handle, navigating bullies in the ghetto and an apathetic older brother by keeping to himself. In secret, he nerds out on vampire films, buries himself in the lore and schedules monthly feedings to satiate his urge for human blood. This violent obsession is a burden that only he can know about, and it’s tested when he gets a new neighbor named Sophie (Chloe Levine), herself no stranger to hard times or abusive relationships. Suddenly, Milo’s world is in jeopardy, and he struggles to find a balance between his dark desires and possible redemption through his only friend.
What makes O’Shea’s film stand out, is his commitment to urban reality over the story’s more extraordinary elements. Though the vampire mythos is integral, it’s only ever in service to the mundane struggles of O’Shea’s adolescent characters. I don’t want to spoil too much about how the bloodsucking fits in, but at the film’s center is a very intimate portrait of two lost souls trying to find something good in a rotten world. O’Shea is smart to tether the film’s tone to Milo’s psychological struggles, transforming as we follow his journey to self discovery. This allows the film to wear a few different hats, at first disarming us with the sweetness of Milo and Sophie’s budding romance, before reminding us of how tragic their lives really are. Ultimately, O’Shea’s biggest weapon is restraint, amplifying the mundane in ways that are deafening. This is first and foremost a coming of age fable, splicing gore and youthful possibility with a brutal, yet redemptive conclusion.
Standing front and center, are a pair of leads who immerse us into the film’s cold reality. As Milo, Eric Ruffin is a true presence, balancing twisted, shocking impulses with innocence and charm. The film is able to tread big tonal shifts through his performance, which can flip at the turn of the switch, but always feel organic and earned. As Sophie, Chloe Levine is the film’s heart. Levine carries a lot of the story’s emotion, a bright light in a world of darkness. The spark between the these two is the film’s anchor, and together, they’re a winning combination.
There’s a simplicity to The Transformation that digs deep into primal fears and life after trauma, and I can’t say much more at the risk of ruining how the film unfolds. O’Shea’s delicate reveals and how he unravels both the film’s mysteries and its characters are pretty clever, making the genre feel new and urgent again. If you’re a fan of vampire films like Milo, this is definitely worth your time – if not, it’s still a sharp, coming of age story that really sinks under our skin and refuses to let go.