Eric Ruffin is Milo, a young teen who has taken his obsession with vampires to extreme, dark places. But after he meets the sweet and understanding Chloe, the reality of what he’s been doing finally becomes painfully clear…in The Transfiguration.
ALL FANg, NO BITE
The Transfiguration, from writer-director Michael O’Shea, is, at it’s core, the story of a young boy struggling with the sudden, tragic death of his mother. Along with this comes an introspective look at how even the slightest bit of affection from others can help guide us out of even our darkest moments. Or, alternatively, how we can sink deeper into such things should we be left to fend for ourselves for too long. And from this, we also get a tender, subtle tale of awkward but fulfilling first love.
Unfortunately, the overall impact of all of this is dulled, if not outright ruined, by the way the movie intentionally plays out every scene–every line of dialog–every emotional moment–in flat, prolonged fashion. There’s a power to be had in subtlety. There’s power in natural performances. A power in ambiguity. But it takes a skilled hand to compose such things. It takes a firm understanding of manipulating emotions through audiovisual storytelling to get such things across on screen without losing impact. And O’Shea’s work simply does not deliver.
For example: it’s painfully obvious when O’Shea fails to actually direct his young actors. Their line-readings range from flat to outright lifeless. Everyone sounds and looks perpetually bored regardless if they’re holding hands on a first date, watching someone die, or even killing someone themselves. Even the victims in this movie don’t seem to care all that much. And having nearly every scene drag on and on through an extended series of shots–not even long takes, simply a numerous amount of shots–robs what little is going on of any impact.
Pacing is important as anything in storytelling. And The Transfiguration is eager to rush to the next scene, cutting every action and dialog exchange short in the process. But then it pads things out until any emotional investment a scene earned is burned up before the next scene even starts.
Worse, every key moment in this movie is omitted. At best we get brief flashes of such things. At worst, we’re lazily told what happened off-screen while the movie was distracting us with something less interesting.
Example: it’s repeatedly hinted throughout the movie that Milo’s obsession with vampires–his compulsion to live-out his fantasies–is the result of finding his mother’s dead body following her suicide. Her death, in essence, is the inciting incident that kicks off everything else we see. But that moment is given to us in fragments later in the movie. It’s treated as unimportant backstory. But that moment–that scene that doesn’t actually exist–defines who Milo is as a character. It informs every action and thought he has throughout the movie. He drinks blood, watches vampire movies, and is said to have–at some point–harmed animals as a result of this. But we’re told this through expository dialog.
And this makes no sense seeing as how O’Shea opens the movie with a random, confusing scene where Milo is drinking the blood of some random victim. Why show us that when he could have instead shown us a young boy finding his mother’s lifeless body and drinking her blood due to some strange mixture of grief and an inherently dark compulsion that ultimately haunts and consumes him? That’s heavy, emotional stuff. But what O’Shea instead gives us is, at best, a cheap shock that holds no meaning. That has no impact on the rest of the story.
And it’s a shame, really. Because O’Shea had some great material in front of him. He had a talented young cast–and Ruffin and Chloe Levine still manage to shine at times. He had a great setting. He had the making of a great movie that could firmly ride the line between coming-of-age drama and violent horror movie. But all of that is presented as just things happening on screen. We’re not given reason to care at any given moment by way of poor pacing and a clunky structure.
In different hands, The Transfiguration could have been a truly powerful piece of cinema that helps elevate a genre that’s often poorly received by critics and more serious film fans. Michael O’Shea’s version, however, is not that movie. It’s dull, drawn-out, and far too emotionally detached. And, as a result, it’s also a NO CHILL.