Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a teenager who lives in a rough, urban neighbourhood and has found himself ostracised by all those around him, from his peers to the gang members who haunt the streets and envrirons, it seems everyone picks on him. Apparently in reaction to this, he seeks solace in vampire fiction, owning a number of video cassettes featuring films on the subject and writing his own account of his life as a vampire, for he does not believe it is fiction at all. Indeed, he suspects he himself is a bloodsucker, and has become drawn to online videos of animals being slaughtered in abattoirs or being devoured by other animals, positing himself as a predator in that style. But then he gains a friend...
The Transfiguration was director and writer Andrew O'Shea's first feature, he had tried out this material in a short film before, but he suddenly made a name for himself after impulsively applying for this to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was surprised to be accepted. This raised the profile of what was a tiny-budgeted effort considerably, not to blockbuster levels but among the arthouse crowd who liked coming of age yarns set in impoverished circumstances, no matter where they hailed from, and that subset of those who preferred an artsy-fartsy horror flick, this was a real tonic. Its moody and reserved tone was merely the icing on the cake, though whether this was anything new was debatable.
Largely because it was more or less a loose remake of George A. Romero's cult classic "realistic" vampire movie Martin from around forty years before, with the same premise: a troubled young man convinces himself he is a vampire, then acts on that conviction with tragic consequences. O'Shea even hit the same plot points as the previous effort, so you would be forgiven for having a definite sense of déjà vu as this unfolded, even to the point of wondering how far something could go into homage before it became a rip-off. The racial angle, and the location in a mostly African-American neighbourhood, did go some way to rendering this more distinctive however, though thankfully it was not laboured.
Much of that was down to Ruffin's natural performance in front of the camera that was handheld throughout, offering a documentary feeling to the material that his quiet, contained reading served to make more immediate than some over the top exploitation effort would have done. When Milo got himself a sort-of-girlfriend in Sophie (Chloe Levine), one of the only white people in the neighbourhood of high rises and therefore also something of an outsider, it would seem to place him in a healthier position than Martin ever was, yet the troubles ran too deep and he obsessed over what it would be like to swallow the blood of a fellow human being, including that of Sophie. When he makes a move to slake that unlovely thirst, he picks a down and out first, by which time we are already concerned for the girl.
There was a drawback to portraying the outsider in this manner, and that was it wholly justified the others' treatment of Milo. At first we are sorry for the kid, and could regard his preoccupation with real life gore as a reaction to that victimisation that has made him identify with fictional outcasts that nevertheless contain great power, but when he takes this too far and actively murders people, including a little girl in one nasty scene, then our sympathies are severely tested. This additionally created a tone where a poor soul who we initially wanted to find some peace ends up as a villain, getting up to such business as luring a clueless middle-class kid who wants to buy drugs right into the lair of the local gang where he is shot dead, leaving us thinking Milo was more menace than unjustly persecuted. Obviously, a less than sympathetic protagonist is not someone every film watcher will get along with, but O'Shea could have done more with making the little guy less of a creep. Pretty easy to watch thanks to a strong, bleak atmosphere, nevertheless. Music by Margaret Chardiet.