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