Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Halloween List: The Transfiguration and A Dark Song

The Transfiguration (2017)

I was utterly unprepared for this movie. It was an amazing get for Netflix, which scooped the film up from Cannes and recently released it on its streaming service. It’s the sort of highly poignant thing we can’t get enough of in Horror.

Milo is many things. A high school student. A son whose mother died when he was young, and whose father is long gone. He’s a serial killer who has no idea what to do with his compulsions.

Most of all, Milo is a fan of vampires. He thinks he is one, and uses their sanguine lore to rationalize his impulses and how strange he feels. He doesn’t fit in anywhere; his older brother offers no empathy, and he can’t communicate with the gangs that dominate his block. Instead he hides in his room, watching Nosferatu and Lost Boys. His notebooks are full of diagrams and lists of lore, figuring out how different vampires worked, as he tries to figure out why he is the way he is.

Eric Ruffin freaking crushes this role. He looks like a sociopath. He’s never a monster relishing in stalking someone; he’s a kid who doesn’t understand why people talk to each other, and when he has the urge, only knows that he’s supposed to be violent and acts. It’d be easy for a kid studying vampires instead of psychology in order to learn self-knowledge to seem cheesy or overwrought, but Ruffin gives Milo just enough life that he feels as authentic as it gets. This is up there with Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer for representation of such a life.

Eventually Milo meets Sophie, a girl who also loves vampires – well, the ones in Twilight. She’s lonely and persistent about catching up with him, and you watch him try to understand what yearning for companionship is like. He’s not absent of emotion. He can’t process it like he thinks he’s supposed to. Sometimes you worry for Sophie’s safety, while in others you’re just charmed about them comparing the rules of Twilight vampires against Bram Stoker’s Dracula. They are precious together.

Of course, vampires aren’t real, but in a world that refuses to help the poor and vulnerable, you reach for what you can. At some point you wind up hoping that “The Transfiguration” title will become literal and he’ll turn into a vampire so he can escape his destitute life, and flourish into anything rather than this life of police brutality and gang shootings.

The Transfiguration is an intimate portrait of a kid that the social safety net has failed to find, and trying to find himself. He finds himself firmly a dark genre. That genre is richer for having him.

A Dark Song (2016)

This is the first movie I’ve watched twice this October. It relies on a very different kind of tension, similar to The Invitation or It Comes at Night, that comes from waiting as unnerving clues are dropped. Even in that mold, it’s an unusual supernatural story about loss that prides itself on going to uncomfortable places. But the payoff for walking through those shadowy valleys is like nothing else in current Horror.

Sophia was a mother until her child was killed. She’s haunted by his absence, and will do anything to hear his voice again. “Anything” includes hiring and secluding herself with a drill sergeant-like occultist who puts her through exhausting and brutal rituals in order to bring down the walls between herself and the other side. If they succeed, she can ask an angel to meet her son. But as they look behind the veil of mortality, other things may look back.

The two cannot leave the house, her occultist warns, or they will be trapped in limbo forever. So the movie is dominated by just those few rooms they labor in, and all the strange rituals he subjects her to. She is covered in symbols, or prays on her knees for hours as cold water is poured over her, and when she can’t bring herself to forgive wrongs as part of the spell, soon finds herself forced to take shortcuts. Shortcuts like drinking blood.

The movie is so preoccupied with the rituals that you can miss when the first things start happening around the house. A door opens on its own. Things go missing from her belongings. She hears her son’s voice sometimes, but it could be anything using it to lure her astray.

The tension of what the rituals evoke is mingled with the occultist being unreliable. There are things he doesn’t know, and at any point he could be lying to her, or not telling her about another risk that’s soon to come. She’d be defenseless if he had ulterior motives. If what he says about being trapped in Limbo is true, he would also be defenseless against her screwing him over. After it, cultists were who killed her son.

The interplay of what they hide from each other is rigidly tense, presented often without music, or with suggestive hums that unnerve. They could be what Sophia hears as her mind starts to go.

It’s definitely not a movie for everyone, but I will watch it for a third time.

Up next: Killer Dolls! Annabelle: Creation and Cult of Chucky.


  1. Different from my normal fare, but they both sound intellectually stimulating. That is hard to find in a horror film these days.

  2. Definitely intriguing, leaving me thoughts to carry away with me.


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