The Transfiguration is a remarkable little vampire film that had somehow escaped my radar until I was emailed by the PR representative, asking if would I like to cover this Blu-ray release. It played Cannes under Un Certain Regard after the film’s director, Michael O’Shea, sent it in simply on the whim—and then was shocked and surprised that it was accepted. It played to rave reviews and had a bief theatrical release over here earlier this year, which I didn’t notice.
It’s set in the projects in Queens, NYC, and it’s about a lonely black teenager, Milo (Eric Ruffin), who believes he is a vampire. He sucks strangers’ blood and steals their money. It’s never clear whether he really is a vampire or not. Milo obsesses over vampire films and their lore—his favourites are Martin, Near Dark and Let The Right One In. His parents have passed on, so he lives with his brother, a troubled war vet. But soon he meets another loner, Sofie (Chloe Levine), and the his life takes an even darker turn.
The film is certainly indebted to the vampire films of the past, mainly Martin, which is also about a young person who believes he is a vampire leaves the audience guessing whether he is or isn’t. Despite literally speaking its influences in its dialogue, however, it’s a very original take on the genre.
It’s also very rare to have black vampire films—there are maybe a dozen, one of which was Def by Temptation, a Troma production. In a sly nod to this predecessor, Troma head Lloyd Kaufman appears in The Transfiguration in a fun cameo role.
The Transfiguration works as a vampire film, but it also works as a drama on the young black male experience in the US, similar if not better than Moonlight. It touches on the economic hardship black communities face and gang violence, but it’s done with care, these things are just a fact of the environment in which the characters are living. The performances from the two young actors are great, and I hope they both get lots of work from this—same goes for the director, O’Shea, who has really pulled off one of the most wildly inventive and smart vampire films since at least Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. O’Shea has told interviewers that he was on the verge of giving up filmmaking if he couldn’t gain at least a release and some critical acclaim, when taking a punt on submitting the film to Cannes paid off. His good luck was well deserved.
The disc includes a commentary track, a making-of feature, deleted scenes and finally the trailer.