This month at the Gutter, I looked The Transfiguration, a meditative, low budget indie horror centered on one troubled boy’s fixation with becoming a vampire. I focused on the way the movie simultaneously deromanticizes vampires while speaking to the redemptive virtues of love, since the way supernatural romance tends to idealize maladaptive and downright self-destructive behaviors is kind of a bugbear of mine. The Transfiguration really has so much else going for it I didn’t get into. In particular, I loved the way the movie explored masculinity in Milo’s relationship with his brother. These guys do not open up like Supernatural’s Brothers Winchester, but the performances and the economical writing and direction get so much across — anxiety, resentment, and unconditional love — meanwhile, the brothers wage silent, unceasing wars with personal demons that are always in the background, just like the closed door to the room where their mom committed suicide. Men are asked to repress so much in our society. This is something that fascinates me, as an oppressed ladytype. This is not a battle of the sexes. Women support patriarchy, and patriarchy kills and erases men. The repercussions seem particularly acute for black men, especially black men from low-income neighborhoods like Milo’s, who are also routinely vilified and othered and would have more need of a robust support system, but could never, ever have a heart to heart like Sam and Dean. Milo gets some “support” in the form of therapy, but it’s not really. It’s just another form of policing.
Race is and isn’t dealt with, because it’s America, and race is ever in the background, and we have an African-American star, an African-American star in a horror movie, and incredibly, that by itself is still kind of exceptional.* We have an interracial romance, which is less rare, but still noticeable and obliquely pointed up in the movie itself with references to Jungle Fever and Sophie (Chloe Levine) noting Milo is the only person who hasn’t asked her why she’s in his inner-city neighborhood. I noted that some reviews seemed to find Eric Ruffin’s very subtle performance of stoic Milo unlikable, but I suspect no one would have felt that way if he were being portrayed by a white actor. Maybe I’m wrong; it’s a tricky role to play, being sympathetic while your character is a self-fashioned killer trying to purge himself of his humanity. But we’re really coached into finding remoteness, aloofness, stoicism desirable in white men; it goes back to that destructive interpretation of masculinity I was talking about before, with the Byronic heroes of YA novels aplenty. Anyway, I thought he was surprisingly likable, given how the movie opens and what we know about him before he starts to slowly fall in love. I found Milo every bit as sympathetic as Oskar in Let the Right One In, actually more so, because Milo is struggling not just to escape his hellish life, but eventually to do the right thing. Which makes the movie so much more poignant.
It’s not a fun movie, but it is a moving and Important one. Give The Transfiguration a watch. It’s on Netflix streaming now.
* Yay for change though. The BEST horror movies I have seen this year — this, Get Out, and The Girl with All the Gifts — all had black actors as leads. God, Get Out was good. Go see it if you haven’t. I loved It, too, but one of the only things I would change about it is I felt they gave Mike short shrift. I do recognize it’s hard to get a lot of backstory done with 7 leads in a 2-hour running time.