Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a solitary, bullied teenager. When Sophie (Chloe Levigne) comes to live in the same apartment block, they start up a friendship that develops into something closer. Classic coming of age stuff, then? Yes – and no. Because Milo has a taste for blood. Preferably from the neck.
We’re in on his little secret right from the opening scene of The Transfiguration, the debut film from writer/director Michael O’Shea. In a men’s toilet, a solitary patron can hear strange noises coming from a cubicle and, when he takes a peek under the partition, the position of two pairs of feet makes him assume the obvious. But inside that cubicle is Milo, getting his blood fix from his latest victim.
Home is a tough New York estate, full of faceless apartment blocks and boarded up shops. He lives with older brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten) who is permanently sprawled on the sofa watching TV and is as taciturn as his little brother. And, once he’s closed his bedroom door, Milo voraciously watches YouTube videos of abbatoirs and his extensive collection of vampire movies, from Dracula to later incarnations like The Lost Boys. When he becomes friends with Sophie, she attempts to introduce him to the delights of Twilight, which he resists, as he prefers something more realistic. Not that she realises until much later that he means it literally.
O’Shea entered the film for last year’s Cannes on a complete whim but, to his surprise, it was an official contender in Un Certain Regard. And the slow burn thriller went down equally well at this year’s SXSW. While it’s steeped in vampire lore, Milo has neither the traditional fangs, cloak nor bats in close proximity. In fact, he admits he believes vampires don’t need them, and that darkness, garlic or a stake through the heart are especially important either. What matters to him is the taste of blood and he gets ample opportunity to indulge in it. It’s a film that bends the vampire genre and attempts to take it in a contemporary, more urban direction.
Eric Ruffin is impressively restrained as Milo, only smiling once and never, ever laughing. The shadow of the way he acts out his obsession increasingly hangs over his relationship with Sophie, to the point where she looks increasingly destined to be his next prey. The rules of hunting he details in one of his books trace the development of their friendship step by step and she shares one similarity with all his previous victims. She’s white.
And the atmospheric cinematography from Sun Rae Cho adds to the sombre menace. It’s as gritty as the New York setting, but makes the audience feel they’re stalking Milo. We watch him from the other side of a car window, from round a corner, and nearly always at a distance, giving the film even more edginess.
As a debut, The Transfiguration promises much and delivers plenty. It may not be quite on the same level as last month’s surprise horror hit, Get Out, but it treads a similar path in re-defining its chosen genre. Where do vampire movies go now? For Milo, certainly not in the Twilight direction: he’s not convinced by them before Sophie persuades him to give one a try, and even less so afterwards!
The Transfiguration is released in cinemas on Friday 21st April.