George A. Romero’s Martin is the most overt inspiration for The Transfiguration, with writer/director Michael O’Shea, like Romero, stripping out the supernatural elements of the usual vampire movie for a stark realism. Making his feature debut with this urban horror yarn, O’Shea rather unwisely lays his influences on the table, having his troubled main character, Milo (Eric Ruffin), explicitly cite Martin — as well as Nosferatu, Let the Right One In and many other predecessors — and daring us to find his film lacking in comparison.
Still, while The Transfiguration doesn’t reach Martin’s heights, O’Shea’s Brooklyn-set film does exert its own queasy pull. At the film’s opening, Milo’s fascination with vampirism has already crossed over into homicide; we discover that this turns out to be his perverse way of dealing with his and brother Lewis’ (Aaron Clifton Moten) mother’s suicide. Only Sophie (Chloe Levine) — herself a woman with a suicidal streak who lives with an abusive grandfather in the same housing project — feels comfortable on this taciturn teen’s oddball wavelength. Naturally, they strike up a tentative relationship.
But the deeper Milo dives into his obsession with the vampire lifestyle, the more disturbed he becomes by the violence he commits. The Transfiguration gradually reveals itself to be a coming-of-age tale, one whose central figure reaches a point at which he’s forced to reckon with the evil lurking within himself. Whether the conclusion Milo ultimately reaches is a moment of clarity or simply the tragically inevitable endpoint of his demented obsession is something O’Shea leaves unsettlingly open.
Written and directed by Michael O’Shea
Opens April 7, Angelika Film Center