Writer-director Michael O’Shea’s debut film, The Transfiguration, is a coming-of-age horror story set in New York City. Its focus is teenage Milo (Eric Ruffin), who lives with his seemingly depressed older brother, and who is obsessed with vampires. Enough that Milo is attacking people and drinking their blood. The neighborhood toughs call him “freak,” and there are indications that Milo has serious emotional problems. But he finds a potential friend in Sophie (Chloe Levine), another troubled teen who moves into his building. She’s even open to his interest in vampirism, though they naturally argue about the merits of Twilight.
O’Shea’s film is a slow burn, punctuated by some shocking violence. And Ruffin and Levine sell their characters well, making these somewhat difficult-to-like or -understand characters compelling and even sympathetic. It’s Milo himself who gives two useful clues how to process this film, when he tells Sophie that his two favorite vampire films are the 2008 Swedish thriller Let the Right One In and Martin, George Romero’s lesser-known 1978 movie shot in Braddock. Let the Right One In is as much about alienated adolescents living in a high rise who find common ground in the social isolation as it is about blood-sucking. And Transfiguration feels like a direct descendent of Martin, both in its set-up (broody sensitive teenage boy living with an older male relative in rundown circumstances) and execution, from the unnerving 1970s-style electronic score to the central conceit that what matters most is that the protagonist believes he is a vampire, whether he actually is or not.