Despite their titles, two movies now out on various formats for non-theater viewing should not be mistaken as faith-based films. The Crucifixion (2017) and The Transfiguration (’16) might touch on religious matters, but each is most definitely solidly ensconced in the horror genre.
The first is another diabolic possession flick, this time with a good director, but still trite and disappointing. The second is a vampire-ish film by a first-time director, and it’s anything but typical. Not just because of its originality, The Transfiguration is also good.
Written by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes (The Conjuring, The Conjuring II), The Crucifixion has an inane plot, like its two predecessors. It’s also “based on a true story,” a popular, laughable claim for many films, horror and otherwise. Director Xavier Gens, whose earlier films Frontier(s) and The Divide established his credentials within the genre, plays it safe and low-key this time, within the limited confines of the preposterous script.
The best thing going for the film is its location shooting in modern-day Romania, where the possession and attempted exorcism take place. A young nun, deemed possessed, is tied to a cross (not nailed, thank God!) in an effort to exorcise an inner demon. When she dies, the presiding priest and associates are convicted of manslaughter, prompting an investigation of the whole affair by cute (naturally!), intrepid and skeptical reporter Nicole (Sophie Cookson).
Though increasingly victim to bumps in the night and general creepiness, Nicole maintains her denial of a supernatural cause for the crime, despite assistance and input of hunky Father Anton (Corneliu Ulici), who warns her to be careful. Nicole’s intense dreams about her priestly protector get unholy.
Minus any logic whatsoever in the script, director Gens can only rely on standard shock scenes until he finally gets to the concluding exorcism which, like those in The Conjuring flicks, is simply mind-numbing in its stupidity and abruptness. In tandem with most such output after The Exorcist (1973), the Hayes boys milk every cliché for all it’s worth. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (’05) and a very few others to the contrary, most such ventures into the realm of diabolic possession are merely silly and dull. Alas, The Crucifixion is, too.
The Transfiguration, on the other hand, is wholly unexpected in its treatment of vampires, a subgenre of horror that’s even more hackneyed than exorcism. Not nearly as polished nor expensive-looking as Crucifixion, the raw cinematography and unconventional editing of Transfiguration make it much more “realistic.” And believe me, this is a “realistic” look at the vampire phenomenon, which makes it inordinately more interesting right off the bat.
The protagonist is young Milo (Eric Ruffin), an African-American boy who wants to become a vampire. To that end, Milo kills people, drinks what blood he can stomach and steals what cash he can pocket in the bargain. Lest I be accused of plot-spoiling, we learn all this in the opening scene.
Living in the projects with older brother Lewis (Aaron Moten), a Mideast conflict veteran who spends every waking hour watching TV. Milo is alone in a violent environment. Gang members, who dismiss Milo as a freak, rule the turf. Father gone, mother dead by suicide, the boy retreats to vampire movies and his own violent fantasies as an alternative to the world around him.
Unexpectedly, Milo becomes friends with Sophie (Chloe Levine), a young white girl who lives in his building and whose own life is, if anything, more awful than his. Kindred souls in loneliness and isolation, Milo and Sophie find mutual affection and communication in their growing friendship. And then Sophie finds his journals, detailing his very real experiments with blood, death and a dreamed-of transfiguration.
Unconventional in almost every way and not a traditional horror film, The Transfiguration is provocative and sympathetic, disturbing and intelligent. The two young leads, particularly Levine, are outstanding, as is the small cast of supporting actors. Genre favorite Larry Fessenden has a brief cameo as Drunk Man, one of Milo’s more deserving victims.
Similar in style and theme of last year’s overrated Oscar-winning Moonlight, The Transfiguration deserves viewers with open minds of another sort—and and rewards them with an above-average drama of pumping hearts, both figurative and literal.