SXSW Film: “The Transfiguration” is a refreshingly original take on vampire lore

Eric Ruffin as Milo in “The Transfiguration.” Contributed by Sung Rae Cho

Michael O’Shea’s directorial debut manages to deliver a story that effortlessly floats between the life of a troubled loner and accepted cinematic vampire mythology. Milo (Eric Ruffin, “The Good Wife”) fully encompasses both tropes.

In the opening scene, it appears as though we are closing in on the stall of a bathroom where two men are having a sexual encounter. The camera pans from a shocked man across the room down into the action, where it is revealed that the situation is far from erotic. Milo is on his knees, but he’s sucking copious amounts of blood spurting from the neck of a severely injured man.

Milo is a loner who wanders around the city, always returning to the safety of his bedroom where he has stacks of VHS tapes scrawled with the titles of vampire movies. From classics like “Dracula” to mid-1990s independent films like “Nadja,” they’re all part of his studies. He is trying to determine what the “rules” are for people like him and stashing away money from his victims.

He lives with his older brother Lewis (Aaron Moten) in the housing projects of Queens. Both their parents have died, and they can only depend on each other. But Lewis spends most of his time passed out in front of the television, avoiding his former gang-related friends outside the apartment doors.

A young woman named Sophie (Chloe Levine) moves into the apartment building to live with her grandfather. Also an orphan, she quickly forms a bond with Milo, unaware of his secrets. Their burgeoning friendship blossoms into romance and, at least temporarily, it appears as though Milo’s affliction may take a backseat to a love story.

The casting of this film is spot-on, and the technical aspects continue to dazzle. Sung Rae Cho’s cinematography offers vibrant shots of life in a big city while also serving up intimate, shadow-filled moments. Margaret Chardiet’s rumbling score helps to telegraph Milo’s most vulnerable and violent instincts. When the surround speakers begin to shake, there’s trouble around the corner.

We’ve had plenty of teenage vampire love stories in recent years, but “The Transfiguration” gives us a melancholy and refreshingly original twist.

It plays again at 9:45 p.m. on Monday and at 2:15 p.m. on Friday, both screenings at the Alamo Ritz. The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, is out next month in New York and Los Angeles thanks to the independent mavericks at Strand Releasing.


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