Milo, the hero of Michael O’Shea’s “The Transfiguration,” is obsessed with realism in vampire movies — the sparkling vampires of “Twilight” do not interest him. Instead, he believes there are people who simply need to drink blood.
“The Transfiguration” treats this obsession seriously. This is not a horror film, exactly, but a dark drama where a self-imposed curse is the only reprieve from a neighborhood where violence is routine.
Eric Ruffin plays Milo, a sullen, intelligent teenager living in a housing project. He lives with his older brother, Lewis (Aaron Moten) — their parents are dead — but Lewis cannot protect him from bullies who hang outside their building. Milo’s preoccupation with vampirism is deadly: He regularly stalks strangers, kills them and drinks their blood (he vomits shortly afterward).
O’Shea films Milo dispassionately, and the frequent nonverbal acting forces Ruffin to create a sympathetic performance out of silence. It’s a demanding role, especially for a young actor, yet Ruffin pulls it off.
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Milo meets Sophie (Chloe Levine), a young woman who just moved into the building and is targeted by the neighborhood bullies because she is white. “The Transfiguration” follows their tender, awkward relationship, while Milo’s secret threatens to upend everything. O’Shea does not pull punches: He films killing as a heinous, pointless act, and Milo’s “vampirism” is an imperfect way to assert some control.
“The Transfiguration” is a little meandering, at least until its final minutes. Milo finally earns a slice of wisdom, which arrives with an elegant, blood-chilling solution to his problems. O’Shea follows his twisted premise to its inexorable conclusion, so his film is ultimately more unnerving than sad.
(At Screenland Tapcade.)
Not rated. Time: 1:37.