THE STORY – Maja, a Danish has-been actress, falls in love with Leah, a Jewish academic from London. Leah suffers a mysterious seizure, and Maja returns with her to London. There, she meets Leah’s mother, Chana, a woman who could hold dark secrets.
THE CAST – David Dencik, Ellie Kendrick & Sofie Gråbøl
THE TEAM – Gabriel Bier Gislason (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 105 Minutes
Danish writer-director Gabriel Bier Gislason’s debut feature, now available on Shudder, is a queer horror film seeped in Jewish folklore. The demonic sub-genre of horror has never excelled so well in subtlety as it does here, creating a creepy atmosphere that keeps you holding your breath. While it needed to be more amped up in its climax, it succeeds in building on the terrors of love and the unknown, with a dybbuk thrown in. With surprising comedic flair and full of romance, “Attachment” isn’t a film to miss.
The film begins with a classic meet-cute. Rushing to a gig as her old Christmas television show character, Danish has-been actress Maja (Josephine Park) runs straight into English student Leah (Ellie Kendrick). It’s a familiar scene. Leah’s books fall everywhere, Maja’s eyes meet Leah’s, and she looks down with shyness. They go their separate ways…Until a little mix-up brings them quickly back together. Despite her apparent nervousness, Maja asks Leah over for tea. The film’s central romance begins suddenly. They don’t know each other at all. Of course, this will change, but the growth of their relationship never feels anything but organic. The pair spend all day at Maja’s house talking, and the next thing you know, it’s night. In between cuts from night and day, they’ve moved closer to each other, their body language growing more comfortable with each passing minute. Soon, they’re only inches apart and can no longer hold back their desire.
It’s plain to see that these characters are in love, and the actresses really sell it. You forget what genre of film this is supposed to be as you get swept up in their relationship, but it’s not romantic for long. Something is clearly off about Leah, and the music cues indicate it’s sinister in nature. Leah will often space out, and Kendrick is fantastic at making it seem like she’s a different person behind the eyes. The way her body moves and cracks creates some disturbing imagery that you can’t get out of your head hours after watching. At one point, Leah becomes unrecognizable physically, with subtle changes in makeup making her transformation seem like a gradual, day-to-day process. When Leah suddenly has what appears to be a seizure, causing her to break her leg in all her convulsions, she decides to return to London and recoup.
Maja wanting to come along to the home Leah shares with her uber-religious, overbearing mother really doesn’t seem like the best idea. Refreshingly, despite Chana (Sofie Gråbøl) ‘s beliefs, she loves her daughter and who she loves. Still, Chana’s quite frightening. Intimidating, set in her ways, and driven by Jewish superstitions, it’s often hard to tell what her true intentions are. Underneath every seemingly loving action is an air of maliciousness, and Maja becomes an amateur sleuth trying to uncover Chana’s dark secrets. Eventually, once the pair sit down and get to know each other, they discover striking similarities, making the relationships in the film more compelling. They both love Leah so profoundly, and the battle between these two women gets grippingly heated. Chana’s strange behavior, or simply having to live with a parent without boundaries, isn’t the worst of the couple’s problems. Maja’s presence derails the tightly held fortress of protection Chana has spent years building around Leah. There’s the attachment of the lover, the mother, and something more evil, and the cracks in Chana’s protective shield threaten to unleash the latter.
“Attachment” really excels in its fear factor, for the most part. The climax of the story makes everything fizzle out a bit. It needed more drama in order for the emotions to hit as well as the filmmakers intended, but the subtlety and spookiness before it really hammers this fear it builds around the unknown. The audience, like Maja, is always trying to figure out what’s going on with Leah or Chana. Through Maja, we feel angst and unease. There’s a moment where the camera moves closer to her when her back is turned like something is creeping up on her, and you worry about what she’ll see if she looks over her shoulder. But it’s unseen, so when Maja begins to hear weird noises in the night and cracks in the floorboards, the sound work is excellent at forming a terror in the illusion that she is surrounded. You’re unsure if there actually is something creeping around in the dark, but as it’s a film rooted in Jewish mythicism, there’s a dread in knowing that a dybbuk could be lurking about. There’s a mastery in building eeriness and scares with subtlety instead of an overabundance of jump scares.
The absolute horror of “Attachment” doesn’t come from any malicious spirit but from how love can be dangerous and how sacrificing everything for those we love can have consequences. The film is a surprise in many ways. Not only in how it shines at terrifying while also employing surprising humor but in how deeply personal and affectionate the movie feels. Above all else, though, it must be lauded for how it treats its queer characters. In the zeitgeist of queer television and film, it’s a welcome sigh of relief.