Stone-faced and unpredictable, Eric Ruffin’s striking lead turn as vampire-obsessed teen Milo gives The Transfiguration the edge it needs to stand out in the crowded field of low-budget horror.
Likewise beneficial is that writer/director Michael O’Shea’s expansion of his 2014 short Milo – which featured another actor going by that name – is steeped in blood-sucker lore, thereby providing a realistic take on how someone with his young hero’s mindset might behave.
In his room in the New York City housing project apartment he shares with his older brother Lewis (Aaron Moten), Milo has recorded VHS tapes of seemingly every vampire film, pores over internet videos of animal predators attacking and eating their prey and keeps detailed journals of his beliefs and understandings concerning his primary interest.
The space is also where he retreats after doing his own human sipping with the aid of a sharp pocket blade, part of an overall impressive depiction of bloody violence that also manifests in the form of multiple scenes involving gunshots.
Bereft of commentary as Milo does his dirty deeds, The Transfiguration excels at showing, not telling. Even when Milo opens up to new neighbor and fellow misfit Sophie (Chloe Levine) about his thoughts on vampirism – including amusing discussions of his favorite movies – his words convey deeper truths about himself, as does a tragic flashback to what likely sparked his interest in the undead.
Strong as the acting and storytelling are, they’re housed within shaky handheld camerawork and further diluted by long, borderline dull and music-free stretches that send one’s mind wandering. More often that not, however, the film’s minimalistic technical qualities and Ruffin’s presence combine to produce sufficient atmosphere, leaving viewers paralyzed waiting to discover the extent of what Milo is capable of doing.
Grade: B. Not rated, but with extreme violence, adult themes and language. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Strand Releasing)