mental illness

The Transfiguration

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Milo is a teen boy living in a rough urban neighborhood. Alienated from his peers for being weird, he spends most of his time watching vampire movies. As his mental illness and fascination with vampirism takes over his life he meets Sophie, another troubled teen who moves into his building. Now Milo is going through an internal struggle between his obsession and his yearning to be with the girl he cares about.

The Transfiguration is a beautiful story. Milo clearly has some kind of mental disorder. He not only is fascinated with vampires, but he actually believes he is one. He believes it to the point where he will kill a stranger to drink their blood. To him it isn’t wrong, it is just what he has to do in order to live. Then Sophie comes into the picture. She has many of her own mental issues, but when compared to Milo she seems like a relatively normal girl. When she enters his life, Milo is forced to look at his actions for what they are and take his mental illness head on. Not only is this a rather depressing look at mental illness in youth, but specifically inner city kids who don’t have the resources to get the help they need.

The plot has elements that will appeal to many audiences. It is mysterious, thought provoking, and horrific in its own way. What drives a lot of this story is not only the social commentary threaded throughout, but also how it makes you question what is real. Is Milo just an unstable teen, or could he possibly be an actual vampire? Watching the story unravel in a way that gives you clues as to the origin of his thirst for blood is truly fascinating. The only qualm I have with this film is that the pacing can be very slow at times. This is a more character and story driven film, rather than relying on lots of action and excitement, but there are still many times where virtually nothing happens. The audience often watches Milo walk around town, without any dialogue or true purpose to the scenes except to create a feeling of unease. There are likely some scenes that can be cut to make the film move at a somewhat quicker pace without losing any of the unsettling atmosphere.

The two young leads in The Transfiguration are some of the best new talent I have seen in a long time. Eric Ruffin (The Good Wife, Nature Calls) is simply incredible as the disturbed Milo. Ruffin portrays Milo as emotionless throughout most of the film, but always shows a bit of heart when Sophie is involved. He shows the audience that Milo definitely has issues that need to be taken care of, but underneath it all he isn’t a bad person. Chloe Levine (The OA, King Jack) is also stunning as Sophie. One could argue that she is equally as disturbed as Milo, just in a vastly different way, and Levine does an amazing job of conveying that to the audience. These are two young actors you will want to pay attention to.

Visually this is a very interesting film. It isn’t necessarily beautiful or shot in a way that makes it look like art. Instead it is somewhat gritty. The colors are dulled so everything has a bit of a grey, dirty tinge to it. This is an interesting choice by the filmmakers, and a smart one. It adds to the gloomy, depressing feeling and emphasizes the themes seen throughout the film. The filmmakers also chose to go very minimal and realistic with any scenes involving blood and murder. Again, this is smart because this is a film very much rooted in the reality of mental illness. If they had gone more the gory horror route then it would take away from the message being sent. All around it is stunning the same way abandoned, crumbling buildings can be stunning.

The Transfiguration is not only a sort of sad love story, but it is also a story of unchecked mental illness. Those who need it most do not get the help they need, and this film shows the effects that has on the individual and those around them. The only true negative about this film is the pacing can drag for unfortunately long periods of time. Yet it is still one of the most interesting and thought-provoking horror films of the decade. The Transfiguration is able to blur the genre lines by the many themes it takes on. Because of that, it is something that has the ability to bring in non-horror audiences in a way that not many other horror films can. It is powerful, it has two phenomenal leads, and it forces audiences to take a deep look into mental illness and the state of inner city youth. The Transfiguration is definitely a must-see film.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

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Lights Out

When Rebecca was young her father walked out and her unstable mother spiraled into a deep depression. Soon after, something began to lurk in the dark. Now, after the mysterious death of her stepfather, the same thing is happening to Rebecca’s younger half-brother, Martin. Some evil entity is attached to their mother and the more unstable she becomes the stronger the evil gets. Now the family has a real reason to fear the dark.

If you haven’t seen the short film that spawned this horror flick, stop right now and watch it first (click here to view). Now that you’ve done that, let’s talk about the feature length Lights Out. We have seen many films in the past that deal with some kind of evil supernatural being that can only be in the dark. Once the light hits it, the evil either disappears or is hurt by the light. Even though it is something we have seen time and time again, Lights Out is probably one of the better versions of this idea. The evil known as Diana is attached to Sophie, who is Rebecca and Martin’s mother. Every time Sophie’s mental state relapses, Diana gets stronger and tries to convince Sophie she is her friend. Diana tried to get Sophie to stay in the dark with all the lights out because that is the only way Diana can exist. She disappears whenever the lights come on. There are only a couple things that bother me about the story. The biggest theme is that there are unanswered questions such as what kinds of light could get rid of Diana, how Diana ended up attached to Sophie after she died, and other smaller questions.

There are two aspects of this film that made it stand out. The first is that the director of the short film also directed the feature length film. For his first time directing a feature length film, David F. Sandberg does an excellent job. You can clearly see the influence of James Wan, who produced the film, in the style and scares. The second aspect is the plot. It seemed very much to be a metaphor for mental illness and how it not only affects the one with the illness, but it also affects everyone around them. When Sophie gets worse and Diana appears, it spirals Sophie into the dark (literally) while also greatly affecting her children. Diana is basically the physical embodiment of Sophie’s mental illness.

As it says in the trailer, everyone is afraid of the dark. As children we believe that there is always something waiting for us in the dark, whether it be in the closet or under the bed. That is why this relatively simple plot, and others like it, are so terrifying. It taps into the simplest of fears in a very effective way. Because the idea of fearing what’s in the dark is so simple, it makes sense that this film also went for simpler scares. The times that are the scariest usually consist of a good jump scare. Overuse of jump scares usually bother me or seem lazy, but in this film it works because of the concept and the fact that it is a PG-13 film. Along with the simple scares, the filmmakers go for a simple look when it comes to Diana. She is mostly just a creepy, black figure in the shadows with scraggly hair, long pointed fingers, and sometimes glowing eyes. There is one scene in the film where you see more of Diana and I really wish they hadn’t shown so much of her. Her look out of the darkness is nowhere near as terrifying, so it makes Diana less terrifying at a pivotal point in the film. This is a mistake I see time and time again in horror films. Just remember, less is more.

Lights Out has a great cast of characters that are very well developed. You actually care about the people in the story – a film is always scarier when you care about the characters. Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) is excellent as Rebecca. What made her acting, and her character, so compelling is that she is clearly damaged from her childhood, but when her little brother is in trouble her strength comes out. Martin, the younger brother, is played by Gabriel Bateman (Annabelle). His performance is great, but he tended to do this face that is halfway between a snarl and a concentration-type face. It is a bit distracting, but he still does a perfectly good job. I am surprised by Maria Bello (A History of Violence) as the mother, Sophie. Her portrayal of Sophie’s instability is amazing and sad all at once.

This is a creepy film. Lights Out is a simply scary story that will have you sleeping with the light on. It isn’t the most intricate plot, but you have to take it for what it is. This is a PG-13 film, which means they want younger audiences to be able to enjoy the film as well, with a first time feature length film director. It has lots of great jump scares and great acting. I believe the film will still be exciting even after the novelty of the jump scares has worn off. With the exception of a few issues I have with the plot and the fact that I believe Diana should never have been shown out of the shadows, I really enjoyed this film. Lights Out is something that most horror fans can enjoy if they take it for what it is; a fun, scary ghost story.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10