By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: The Transfiguration

transfiguration

Out of the darkness, the remedy to tired post-Twilight vampire movies arrives in Cannes with little to no fanfire: U. S. director Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration, a debut that drives an sturdy stake into familiar material while breaking new ground in urban realism.

Following taciturn Milo (Eric Ruffin), an orphaned young kid living with his war veteran brother in a seedy Brooklyn apartment, the film and its protagonist are obsessed with all things vampire. Which makes this film, at first, very meta: Milo name-checks 2008’s Let The Right One In as one of his favorite examples of vampire logic, a field he’s in the process of researching extensively through bingeing old classics and “cultivating” first-hand experience.

The result of Milo’s inquiries find that there are, perhaps, realistic vampires—or more accurately, real vampires: bloodsucking mortals that aren’t allergic to garlic, are able to stroll under the sun, and can comfortably bathe in holy water. Vampires with groceries to buy and internet bills to pay. Yes, as the film suggests, maybe the actual vampires begin by hurting animals and watching gore videos online—before randomly murdering strangers for a strict monthly diet regimen.

Steeping the film in the realism of Brooklyn’s school of hard knocks, the film opens with an attack—in a bathroom stall, of all places, where initially it’s taken as a public sex act. Squeamish be damned: The Transfiguration doesn’t shy away from Milo’s exsanguinations, which are a necessary evil for this complex and excellent commentary on urban hardships to work.

Using an unstable handheld camera, O’Shea casts a light on his rough-and-tumble apartment block that’s rife with violence and poverty. It’s a setting that will feel real, which is a brilliant thematic tie-in to Milo’s fascination with the realities of what vampires would be—not the sparkling skin and chiseled faces of Stephenie Meyerdom, a canon summarized here as “sucking.” Because as other horrific crimes begin to occur throughout the neighborhood, maybe Milo isn’t the only monster running around the streets of New York City.

Finally, it’s unsurprising to learn newcomer Eric Ruffin had a role in 2013’s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, a film that essentially takes place around the corner from this genre-tinted entry. Playing opposite an ideally cast Chloe Levine, Milo’s at-risk youth friend and romantic interest, Ruffin joins filmmaker Michael O’Shea as two talents to watch.

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“I remember very much the iconography and the images and the statues in church were very emotional for me. Just the power of that, and even still — just seeing prayer card, what that image can evoke. I have a lot of friends that are involved in the esoteric, and I know some girls in New York that are also into the supernatural. I don’t feel that I have that gift. But I am leaning towards mysticism… Maybe men are more practical, maybe they don’t give into that as much… And then also, they don’t convene in the same way that women do. But I don’t know, I am not a man, I don’t want to speak for men. For me, I tend to gravitate towards people who are open to those kinds of things. And the idea for my film, White Echo, I guess stemmed from that — I find that the girls in New York are more credible. What is it about the way that they communicate their ideas with the supernatural that I find more credible? And that is where it began. All the characters are also based on friends of mine. I worked with Refinery29 on that film, and found that they really invest in you which is so rare in this industry.”
Chloë Sevigny

“The word I have fallen in love with lately is ‘Hellenic.’ Greek in its mythology. So while everyone is skewing towards the YouTube generation, here we are making two-and-a-half-hour movies and trying to buck the system. It’s become clear to me that we are never going to be a perfect fit with Hollywood; we will always be the renegade Texans running around trying to stir the pot. Really it’s not provocation for the sake of being provocative, but trying to make something that people fall in love with and has staying power. I think people are going to remember Dragged Across Concrete and these other movies decades from now. I do not believe that they will remember some of the stuff that big Hollywood has put out in the last couple of years. You’ve got to look at the independent space to find the movies that have been really special recently. Even though I don’t share the same world-view as some of my colleagues, I certainly respect the hell out of their movies which are way more fascinating than the stuff coming out of the studio system.”
~ Dallas Sonnier