“From DRACULA by Stoker I was very interested in Renfield’s fascination with the food chain. That led to a lot, like Milo’s obsession with animal videos but also how a vampire is the highest point on a food chain. How capitalist society creates similar predatory relationships, and how someone living in the lowest rung of the economic food chain could try to place themselves on top. The relationship between class and “survival of the fittest”—that was big to me.” — Micheal O’Shea
Premiering at this years SXSW Festival and an official selection at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, writer/director Michael O’Shea’s first feature THE TRANSFIGURATION premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2016. A remarkably adept debut feature, THE TRANSFIGURATION follows troubled teen Milo who hides behind his fascination with vampire lore. When he meets the equally alienated Sophie, the two form a bond that begins to challenge Milo’s dark obsession, blurring his fantasy into reality. A chilling portrait of violence, The Transfiguration is an atmospheric thriller set against the grit of New York City.
First time Director Micheal O’Shea shared thoughts about the genesis of the project, his influences and the underlying messages, “I was watching a very sensitive, sweet film about growing up as an outsider. It had cruelty in it but in the end was hopeful about humanity and who we are. While watching, I felt that my experience of life is a lot less kind. I thought it would be interesting to make something with the opposite point of view, more nihilistic. I started thinking about what that would be.” He nails it. Atmospherically and narratively sparse and full of foreboding the two young leads Eric Ruffin & Chloe Levine with script written by O’Shea is an art house slow burner that relentlessly draw you in holds it’s cards close to the vest, but throws down aces!
O’Shea influenced by filmmakers he admires like Lars Von Trier & Gasper Noe weaves an unexpectedly impressive debut. This is a fresh take on a horror staple. This vampire movie feels, like a thinking persons gritty old school indie & has a subversive societal narrative influenced by Grindhouse Cinema. O’Shea shares a bit of his creative process and his love of indie hero Korean Horror / Action Director Park Chan-Wook . “I began watching a lot of vampire movies. Most watching a second or third or fourth or fifth time, because I already love horror movies. I watched Park Chan- wook’s THIRST a lot. I have a digital photo frame, and I programmed it to play THIRST over and over on the wall behind my computer monitor. It’s pretty awe- inspiring to me that he is screening at the festival. So I would take notes about what I was connecting with in each movie, and how I could riff on it.”
Messages about wealth disparity and “dog eat dog” are deftly handled and clearly well thought out. They are integral to the story’s setting and as a New Yorker I loved the way it was shot by incredible Cinematographer Sung Rae Cho, gleaming and out of reach and barren and stark reflecting “a tale of two cities” coexisting isolated from one another, familiar in NYC and broader Urban Areas in America. Michael O’Shea grew up in the Rockaways in Queens, New York, where THE TRANSFIGURATION is set. He studied film at the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Theater Arts & Film. He explained his choices. ” I started thinking about race, class, and setting. I was thinking about places where there was a lot of poverty next to places with great wealth. At first I was looking at the lower Ninth Ward next to the French Quarter after Katrina. This area essentially looked like a bomb hit it, but then there was the rebuilt French Quarter and all the joy and craziness going on there. But then Hurricane Sandy hit Rockaway and I realized my hometown in comparison to the “new” New York City worked even better. I had roots, connection and understanding of Rockaway and NYC, visually and socioeconomically.
Like all the wide shots of Milo walking and looking in these landscapes… I think that at least in part comes from my love of Jean Rollin and specifically REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE. But use of location and using the location to influence the overall feeling of the film and using NYC for that especially – I think I got that most from Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO. There’s a great tradition of NYC independent, low budget genre cinema that I hope my film belongs to and speaks with, which is why I was so happy to have NYC filmmakers like Lloyd Kaufman who made THE TOXIC AVENGER and Larry Fessenden who made HABIT in our movie.”
The film should garner a great amount of attention at the festival and act as a springboard for other projects which is my hope in sharing this preview, like most directors O’Shea is a lover of film. His work resonates with my tastes for classic 80’s indie horror and mid 70s Blaxploiation and Asian Grindhouse Cinema, which is a void I hope he has the opportunity to fill. His next film A SPECTACLE was selected for Rotterdam Cinemart 2017.
His future plans, if THE TRANSFIGURATION is the hit I hope it is, are intruiging to me as a FilmGeek. “Even though this is my first film, I am not young, so I arrive with a lot of ideas and scripts that the attention from the festival may hopefully help bring to fruition. While I play with vampires in THE TRANSFIGURATION, I like to play with other genres as well. I have a slasher film. A sort of cross country crime film. A ghost film. A possession film. A murder mystery. I even have a musical. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this strange micro-genre of late-seventies/early eighties films that examined subculture with aliens. Like REPO MAN, LIQUID SKY and maybe also STREET TRASH and THE STUFF. I think I’d like to make a micro-budget film that riffs on those films.”
But an on-line screener can’t do this film justice. THE TRANSFIGURATION opens in New York on Friday, April 7th at the Angelika Film Center which I will be attending and Los Angeles on Friday, April 21st at The Nuart Theatre. GO SEE THIS FILM!
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