When we first meet “The Transfiguration’s” lead character, fourteen year old Milo (Eric Ruffin) he’s drinking the blood of his latest victim. He’s not a vampire as such; he’s simply a confused kid, orphaned and alone save for his brother Lewis (Aaron Moten). At night he passes the time watching horror movies—“Let the Right One In,” “Near Dark” and “Shadow of the Vampire” are his favourites because “they’re realistic”—and, more troublingly, videos of animals being tortured. He’s serious about bloodsuckers—“Vampires don’t twinkle,” he says dismissively—because he thinks he is one.
“I think it starts with drinking blood,” he says. “Like you need to. It’s like when you have a cut on your finger as a little kid and you’re sucking on it. Eventually that’s not good enough. So you switch to animals and then people. You change a lot after the first person you kill.”
One night a month he indulges his blood thirst, killing and draining a victim, only to suffer a nasty plasma puke after each attack. The quiet loner is drawn out of his shell with the arrival of Sophie (Chloe Levine), a teen who lives with her abusive grandfather on the ninth floor of their apartment block. They connect almost immediately and that intimacy brings with it a change in Milo’s metamorphosis. It’s Dracula and Juliet, a love story with high stakes.
There are kills and some gore in “The Transfiguration” but it can’t rightly be called a horror film. It’s more a psychological drama examining the dark corners of Milo‘s mind. He’s a tortured soul but Ruffin plays him with an unsettling sincerity that underscores the inner rage that drives his fascination with death.
Levine, as an equally lost soul but without the deadly streak, is the film’s heart. Beaten down, she plays Sophie as someone who hasn’t given up, who still has hope. It’s a grounded, naturalistic performance in a film that values understatement over grand gestures.
“The Transfiguration” is a downbeat slow burn, a movie that for better and for worse takes it’s time with Milo and Sophie’s story. Director Michael O’Shea could have revved up the pacing but his storytelling is uncompromising, Margaret Chardiet’s electro score is anxiety inducing and the performances, while unfussy, reveal deep reservoirs of emotional depth.