Whenever people complain about the state of vampire movies, as they have done ever since the success of the Twilight series (it's fine, not all films are created with hardcore horror fans in mind), I am always heartened to be reminded of the great variety of films within the subgenre. This is not unique to the vampire film, all of the archetypes still allow smart and creative film-makers to provide a wide range of tales either using or breaking the general "rules", as they see fit. But few have the wealth of imagery and tropes to draw on as well as the vampire movie (any movie reworking Frankenstein would be the next contender, as far as I'm concerned).
The Transfiguration sits nicely alongside some of the more interesting examples of the vampire movie that we've had over the years but, perhaps more interestingly, it equally sits alongside a number of quality dramatic films that show glimpses of life as an African American in the USA. Martin is namechecked, but so is the aforementioned Twilight, as the boy at the centre of it all tries to provide himself with a unique identity patched together from others he has decided to identify with. He kills and drinks blood, but does that make him any better or worse than the local kids who drain money from the wallets of those looking for drugs and kill those they take a disliking to?
Eric Ruffin plays the main character, Milo, an introverted young man who lives with his older brother, Lewis (Aaron Moten, billed here as Aaron Clifton Moten). Milo acts very much like a vampire, and seems to have no qualms about picking off victims he can then suck blood from, but it's not initially made clear what powers he has, if any, and what could strongly affect him. He develops a friendship with a young woman named Sophie (Chloë Levine), with the two spending a lot of time together discussing vampirism and their preferred examples of it throughout decades of cinema.
The feature debut of writer-director Michael O'Shea (before this he had crafted a short film titled Milo, I have yet to see it but it may have the germ of an idea expanded for this), The Transfiguration is a perfect mix of horror elements and character study. Milo spends a lot of the screentime being a typical teen, but moments of sudden violence crop up to remind viewers of how he views himself, and how coldly he can decide the fate of anyone he sees as a victim. Although veering between the sweet and the horrific, this never loses focus, never gets the balance and tone wrong, and basically never puts a foot wrong. It would make a fine companion piece to Martin, which is high praise indeed (if you enjoy that movie as much as I do).
Ruffin is fantastic in the lead role. It's a quiet performance, very natural and somehow garnering your sympathy despite showing a very dark side. Levine is just as good by his side, and the two have a great chemistry in their many scenes together. They're both slightly awkward while also being completely open, neither fearing the judgement or rejection of the other once the strong connection is made. Moten does well in his much smaller role, as do all of the supporting cast members, but the film belongs to the leads.
Thought-provoking, engrossing, surprisingly emotional in places, this is a film to rewatch, be rewarded by, and appreciate. In fact, it's a near-masterpiece.
You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.