The Transfiguration Cannes film festival review

Does horror The Transfiguration bite off more than it can chew?

A lonely teenage boy named Milo living in Queens, New York bonds with the physically abused Sophie over vampires. She’s a fan of Twilight and True Blood, but he’d rather be watching Martin, Nadja or Let The Right One In. Tomas Alfredson’s vampire flick is a big influence on this low-budget American indie from first-time filmmaker Michael O’Shea, who explores themes of grief, despair and poverty through his characters.

Milo’s extreme obsession with vampires leads him to think he is one, and after the death of his mother he disappears into his imagination. He’s a day-walker who doesn’t stalk his prey, instead taking any opportune moment to feed. He has a strict code when it comes to killing, and we first meet him sucking on the neck of a rich businessman in a toilet stall. The noises emanating from the stall suggest that he’s engaged in sexual activity, and as he slips the cash out of the dead man’s wallet the suggestion of this deed is perhaps what led to his death.

O’Shea addresses assumptions about kids living in poverty-stricken neighbourhoods concerning cash, drugs and guns with Milo furiously biting back on the stereotypes. O’Shea also touches upon tension between races, with the relationship between a black boy and white girl turning heads in the local area.

Newcomer Eric Ruffin takes the lead role of Milo, and his performance is all blank stares and detachment. O’Shea’s direction doesn’t quite push Ruffin into being as convincing as he should be and this is one of the film’s major issues. However, it’s easy to buy into the relationship between Milo and Sophie thanks to Chloe Levine turning in such a confident and affecting performance.

As they wander round Queens getting to know one another their interactions have a naturalistic feel. O’Shea sketches Milo and Sophie’s reality as grim and unforgiving yet he also gives them hope.

The Transfiguration is a film that’s interested in exploring the community and economy of Queens, and in that instance this horror realism rings true, but O’Shea bites off more than he can chew by shoehorning in a few too many issues.