Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. With this in mind, it is very clear that Michael O’Shea is a huge fan of the fantastic Swedish horror movie Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma). The Transfiguration is less of a nod to the aforementioned vampire flick and more of a wet snog, tongues and all. From similar themes, familiar set pieces and references, right through to blatant nods; The Transfiguration’s inspiration is very clear.
The Transfiguration is a Horror Drama Movie that focuses on a young outcast boy called Milo (played fantastically by Eric Ruffin), his obsession with Vampires, and the unlikely friendship he forms with fellow outcast Sophie (played by Chloë Levine). Not for the faint of heart, The Transfiguration is brutal in its realism and sometimes meandering in its pace. Stick with it and you will find a loving tribute to vampire movies both old and new.
Watching Let The Right One In for the first time, it was apparent that a new style of vampire horror films was emerging. Just as movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer modified the formula for the Slasher Horror, Let The Right One In did the same for the well established vampire horror genre. The story was so well constructed and the characters so believable that the events of the movie seemed almost plausible.
It was a different way of approaching the genre, one that didn’t demand that the characters have a belief in the supernatural or an awareness of things that go bump in the night. There is no castle, no bats, and no coffin. Just a real world, a block of flats, bullying and poverty. The world is as tangible as the one around you with only the merest suggestion of something untoward. We observe the story through the eyes of a child; perhaps as this is the only way we could relate to something so fantastical in a world that is outwardly so normal. Let The Right One In set a new bench mark.
It was only a matter of time before Let The Right One In began influencing future Horror Movie creators. This is where The Transfiguration comes in. To say that Michael O’Shea has been influenced by Let The Right One In would be an understatement. The Transfiguration runs the risk, at times, of bordering on plagiarism. Change a few character genders here, shift a location there, adjust this character’s motivation a little; it is all very familiar and I found myself leaning towards frustration at what I considered to be more than simple nods.
To judge the film harshly for this fact, however, would be doing it something of a disservice as The Transfiguration has a decent amount to offer. Sure, it may feel as though you are walking down a very familiar road, hell some of the landmarks may be almost identical, but it is still an interesting journey to an ultimately unique and satisfying final location.
A lonely outcast who is apparently completely different from the people around him. We are introduced to Milo as he feasts on the blood of a person he has killed in a shopping mall toilet. Bullied by the people in his neighbourhood and school, Milo is an orphan that lives with his older brother in a tower block in a deprived part of the city. Milo has an apparent fascination with vampires and, despite his inability to hold down the blood he ingests, he believes he needs it. Remember, this is a drama much more than it is a horror and do vampires really exist? This is a question that will come up repeatedly.
Milo kills regularly to fill his blood lust, adhering to a strict schedule and spending the rest of his free time documenting his plans, strategies, as well as his fantasies, and watching videos of animal cruelty and slaughter. After we have spent a considerable amount of time getting to know Milo, he eventually meets a fellow lost soul in the form of Sophie. Sophie is a seemingly abused girl, equally as displaced as Milo and equally at odds with the world but sharing little else in common. The two develop an unlikely friendship which blossoms into much more before being challenged by Milo’s secret life and twisted desires. What follows is a sometimes confused, sometimes tiring, but often fascinating trip to one of the more brilliant final acts that I have seen in quite awhile.
Milo is played by Eric Ruffin who does an absolutely fantastic job. Milo is, in my opinion from my own personal experience with a family member, likely intended to be somewhere on the high end of the Autism spectrum and Eric Ruffin portrays this superbly in a fascinating, believable, and truly nuanced, performance.
It’s somewhat apparent that film makers are keen to use Autism as a sort of buzz topic in movies as of late with even the latest Predator movie taking advantage of the subject. Diagnosis rates are up and many people know of a friend or relative that has been statemented as somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. As more facts become apparent, story writers seem to capitalise on the crossover between the realities of Autism and the misconceptions.
I can’t speak for Autism sufferers but I think it would be accurate to say that the majority of movie portrayals are way off the mark even when considering the wide spectrum of issues encountered by people with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Eric Ruffin’s portrayal is not one of these. He has a subtle, sympathetic, way of putting across the difficulties encountered every day by people with Autism and I applaud him for his excellent work here. If only the movie itself was a little more sympathetic to the subject matter at hand.
I am a sufferer of Bipolar Disorder and much like the commonly portrayed image of people with Bipolar Disorder being blabbering wrecks that are either super happy or super sad is extremely damaging for me and other Bipolar Disorder sufferers, so is the image of people with Autism being cold, distant, and completely lacking in empathy damaging for Autism sufferers. It is incredibly difficult to feel sorry for Milo, his actions are reprehensible and he stoops to the lowest depths a person can go. We are left in no doubt that there is no grey area in his actions and I think this could have been done without the suggestion that he is suffering a developmental disorder. Enough damage is being done to people suffering from developmental disorders and mental health disorders without making them the villains of your movies. It is a lazy way of giving a character depth.
Sophie, played by Chloë Levine, has a somewhat unique take on the rebel girl next door formula. She is believably troubled, often looks completely disheveled, and is a nice counter to Milo’s quiet persona. I feel like her character was lacking much of the nuance that made Milo compelling, however. Sophie is almost “by the numbers” compared to Milo and there is very little depth to her. Like many of the side-characters in The Transfiguration, Sophie is used to build on Milo’s story without too much of her own story spilling over. Still, Chloë Levine does a fine job.
This is a point that I would underline when taking notes. The Transfiguration, at times, drags itself along with absolutely no urgency. There are scenes that go nowhere, scenes that don’t need to be in the film, redundant detours that add nothing, and a desire to stand and smell the flowers that sometimes leaves you wishing something would happen. The Transfiguration likes to bask in the world it has created despite there being no real reason to.
Overall it doesn’t take much away from the final product as it is still an engaging movie but I found myself wondering whether a shorter final cut may have been better. It is a laborious 95+ minutes and the way some of the events from the middle tie into the events in the finale feel like more of a coincidence than a deliberate choice. Part of this is due to Milo’s actions sometimes being completely nonsensical and part of it is down to the length of time between events.
The Transfiguration is pretty graphic at times. It is also full of controversial subject matter and really goes out of its way to shock. A vicious character that lacks any solid motive committing heinous acts to innocent victims is nothing new but it feels a little forced at times. Some of the aforementioned pointless detours are purely to add a little shock value to the plot.
There are scenes where Milo is watching videos of animal cruelty and scenes from slaughter houses that I felt many would find to be particularly uncomfortable viewing. I am fairly sure this is real as it all looked like old stock news footage. The director’s desire to shock the viewer with some actual real violence feels as cheap as it did in every other horror movie that has attempted this and did little to expand on the character of Milo. On the flip side The Transfiguration features no nudity or sex. I always find this to be a funny quirk of American horror nowadays. Horrific violence is fine but a nipple is going beyond distaste.
Quite literally as The Transfiguration features extensive use of a handheld camera. Obviously this is deliberate but it just doesn’t work that well and can actually be distracting at times. The cinematography feels fairly amateurish and the some of the background music seems a little jarring when compared to the general silence that accompanies the majority of the film. The Transfiguration is an ugly movie, somewhat by design and somewhat thanks to the locations and filming methods. It fits the gritty tone, however, and some people may find no issue with these choices.
The Transfiguration is one of those movies that will divide people. I can see many viewers finding it to be an absolute slog to get through and having nothing good to say about it. I can also see a decent sized group of people claiming it is fantastic, a definite 10/10 and one of the best movies they have ever seen. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
The Transfiguration is a drama film in horror clothing. There are few actual horror elements here but that doesn't mean it is not a dark and disturbing watch. Maybe hampered at times by its over dependence on the main character and deeply indulgent in its portrayal of insignificant events, the movie suffers pacing issues that sometimes slow the events to a crawl. Fantastic acting and an excellent final act are marred by average cinematography and some poor scripting but The Transfiguration is entirely worth a watch for fans of Let The Right One In. A great first attempt by director Michael O'Shea. Despite this, I can't help thinking it could have been so much more.