Love, loss and vampires? Where do we sign, right?
The Transfiguration (2016)
When troubled teen Milo, who has a fascination with vampire lore, meets the equally alienated Sophie, the two form a bond that begins to blur Milo’s fantasy into reality.
Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a weirdo, sorry but there it is. A loner in a lonely world, he sees a regular councilor and stares out of the window in class. He’s also obsessed with vampire folklore, with vamp literature and film – and lives at home with his brother Lewis (Aaron Moten).
The boys live unaccompanied as both their parents have shuffled off this mortal coil, their mother more recently by suicide. Lewis has stopped hanging with the local gang and he’s also been to prison, hence the turnaround. Now the boys for the most part live together in harmony, if you don’t count their endless financial strife, Milo’s secrets and the constant bullying he is forced to contend with. Plus Lewis does not seem to understand Milo and his persistent staring at all.
Milo, for the record is not just interested in vampire culture but is intent on becoming one. He pieces together his own book of ‘rules’ and a concept of what he considers ‘realistic’ vampire behaviour – and this sometimes takes him to a very dark place. Like the darkest place imaginable. Vampires, after all can’t function without bloodshed.
When Sophie (Chloe Levine) shows up at Milo and Lewis’ apartment block to stay with her grandfather, she and the vampire-botherer quickly but tentatively develop a connection. Milo has no friends and spends the majority of his time alone so this new friendship is meaningful. Sophie has also lost both of her parents and is physically abused by her awful new guardian. Her escape is Milo and they bond over their traumatic lives, their sense of loss and Sophie’s self harm.
Milo shares his favourite vampire movies with Sophie and she tries to get him to read Twilight, something he’s reluctant to do since he doesn’t think it will fit in with his picture of what vampires really are (e.g. sparkly vampires seem just that one step too far). Also, don’t do it Milo, it’s unbearable.
As the friendship deepens, so does Milo’s desire to turn himself. He’s dappled in the past. In fact, the film opens with a little neck sucking action which is so matter of fact it’s almost forgettable. When Milo leads a white tourist into a dangerous situation that ends in the worst possible way, he finds himself on the wrong side of the neighbourhood gang, the very same dudes who taunt him with names and enjoy roughing him up.
How is all this going to pan out for our anti-hero and his new love interest? Will the boys ever escape the grasp of their less-than-stellar environment? And will Milo be successful in his quest to become a modern-day Dracula? Only one way to find out!
Well, I think this film is actually great in many ways but isn’t the most pleasant viewing experience. There are a lot of loaded stares and extended silences and although they have meaning, that isn’t always the most comfortable watch. Lewis seems to despair of his brother when he actually just looks like he could do with a hug but Milo doesn’t help himself with his bizarre behaviour.
Milo’s fantasies could well be a symptom of his unprocessed grief, especially as we learn that he found his mother’s body after she had slashed her own wrists. Although, the fact that he tastes her blood as it congeals is also a cause for concern and might suggest that he already had a macabre obsession with the undead before all this happened.
The Transfiguration is good-looking and quite a fresh take on the vampire sub-genre. The film is soaked with sadness and the feeling of loss permeates everything. The fact that we rarely meet an adult character adds to the sense of neglect and it does feel as though nobody really cares about anybody (a metaphor for the lower classes?). Milo’s loneliness hangs heavy and while a lot of his behaviour is seriously dubious (in one scene he slaughters a child), it’s hard not to feel for him.
The ending is pretty crushing too, a brutal comment on the flimsiness of life and I can’t deny it’s stayed with me ever since I saw it on Sunday. Personally I also seriously enjoyed all Milo’s referencing of classic vamp movies, from Nosferatu to Near Dark and Let the Right One In. Kid’s got fine taste, there’s no question there.