The Transfiguration – Review (Cannes Film Festival)

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Milo (Eric Ruffi), the lead character in Michael O’Shea’s debut feature, The Transfiguration, is a strange kid. He’s called names and is bullied by the kids at school and those that live in his block. But Milo doesn’t just have outsider status because of his unusual tastes in films and books – he only watches films and reads books about vampires – he also believes he’s a vampire and frequently kills to satisfy a thirst for blood.

Milo doesn’t like Twilight, he deems it to be “unrealistic”, but his interests in vampire fiction are otherwise relatively widespread, encompassing films such as Martin, Nadja and Blade Trinity. The inclusion of the latter being somewhat significant, as O’Shea makes some vague illusions to Milo being African-American having some thematic significance within the film. This sadly doesn’t really go anywhere though, despite a potentially explosive moment late in the film. Like many things in The Transfiguration, this feels very much like a wasted opportunity.

The fact that Milo is a kid, for instance, certainly adds an extra level of creepiness to proceedings, and O’Shea does a reasonably decent job of creating an atmosphere at times; a sense of dread, but this never gives way to anything approaching impressive horror. If anything, what starts to feel like effective dread early on begins to become more dreary than anything else, as the downbeat slow burn approach yields diminishing returns.

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O’Shea, working with cinematographer Sung Rae Cho, has a relatively strong command of the visuals in The Transfiguration, giving the film a consistent look and rarely falling into the kinds of ‘first filmmaker traps’ that see many trying too hard and derailing films as a result. But it’s not in service of material that is anywhere near strong enough to carry across the film’s 97 minute runtime.

Somewhat assured direction and a good central performance from a young actor aren’t enough to rescue The Transfiguration from falling a little flat. Maybe given a stronger script and more substance to hang a film on, O’Shea could be a director to keep an eye on in the future, but there’s little here to really grab one’s attention.

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