The Transfiguration review: Michael O’Shea impresses with this slow-burning drama. The debut filmmaker makes his directorial and Cannes debut with the film, which plays in Un Certain Regard.

The Transfiguration review from Cannes, 2016.

The Transfiguration review
The Transfiguration review

The Transfiguration plays at Cannes 2016 as part of the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, and is the debut feature from writer and director Michael O’Shea, a native of Brooklyn, New York where the film is set.

Eric Luffin, a young actor best known for his work on the TV series The Good Wife, plays Milo, a troubled individual who has a penchant for vampire movies and a worrying lust for blood. We’re introduced to him in a New York City toilet block where an observer hears strange noises coming from one of the cubicles. Upon investigating he sees that two bodies are visible from underneath the door – though it’s not what you quite think – Milo is sucking the blood from a poor young man who seems to have just met his maker at the hands of the teenager.

As the opening scenes progress, we soon discover that Milo lives alone with his older brother, Lewis (Aaron Moten – who performs all of his scenes either sitting or lying on a sofa), is a bit of a loner and also has a history of issues at school. He meets a girl named Sophie (an equally superb Chloe Levine), and the two form a very quick bond, the young lady willing to adapt to his odd ways; his love of odd YouTube-style clips and the aforementioned vampire movies on VHS (we can visibly see that he has a number of illegally recorded tapes that include the likes of George A. Romero’s Martin, all of the way through to The Lost Boys and Dracula Untold). Both Milo and Sophie connect more and more intimately, while Milo continues on his quest for blood, a calendar seemingly keeping him in check with his feeding times.

The Transfiguration review
The Transfiguration review

There are heaps more to this intriguing, slow-burner; a hugely impressive piece from the new talent O’Shea. His script is detailed and full of nods to the genre, well paced but does take its time over the film’s trim 102 minutes. It’s also probably not one for the squeamish with more than its fair share of gore as Milo goes about his business, and it features real-life YouTube clips of cattle slaughter on more than one occasion and this, along with the aforementioned slower pace, contributed to more than a few walk-outs during the film’s second Cannes screening from which we observed.

The film’s lead Luffin gives a superb, subdued, muted performance as the tortured Milo – a clear stand out in a film which goes right for the larynx from its opening scenes. The drama and character interaction are affecting, its tone slightly off beat but never uninviting, and the film is nicely rounded-off with its neat climactic scenes too.

Wonderfully shot with proper grit, with great performances from its very young cast, The Transfiguration is a refreshing change for this kind of genre piece and you can certainly see why it was included at the festival. Not without flaws, but definitely one to catch.

The Transfiguration review by Paul Heath at the Cannes Film Festival, 2016.

The Transfiguration is currently awaiting a UK and US release date.