Apr 3, 2023
New relationships can be a great thing. The feeling that, once again, somebody loves you and takes joy in your company is a rush unlike few others. Yet with all the giddiness and excitement can come anxieties as well–namely, meeting your partner’s family. It can be a nerve-shredding experience even on the best of days. You’re on your best behavior and putting your best foot forward ... you need to be on point, right? Mess it up and your new relationship could be in for a rough ride or a quick end. In Attachment, Danish director Gabriel Bier Gislason's first feature, protangonist Maja doesn’t do anything wrong in meeting her new girlfriend’s family, but she is still confronted by these anxieties, and in Gislason’s hands, they blossom into full-blown terrors.
Attachment is a new queer romantic horror-thriller brought to you by Shudder. The film received a ton praise from critics at the 2022 London and Los Angeles Film Festivals, not because it’s a refreshing take on romance and horror but because it explores myths and tales of Yiddish folklore by using cast interaction and the story itself as “the creepy factor,” instead of the typical jump-scare efforts we are used to, hence the slow unnerving burn.
The film’s opening moments introduce us to Maja (played by Jospehine Park), a young woman and former child actress, who coasts on old glories that amount to reading stories to bored children at the library. One day, Maja, who lives in Denmark, bumps into Leah (Ellie Kendrick), a young Jewish woman from London studying abroad. They go out for tea and find themselves back at Maja’s apartment. Their affair quickly blossoms and for a while, all is golden.
Their idyllic existence comes to an end, though, when Leah has a seizure, during which she accidentally breaks her leg. Leah’s studies in Denmark are also winding down, which would spell the end for her and Maja, but Maja decides to accompany Leah back to London. From there, it’s all downhill.
Maja moves into Leah’s second-floor flat above Leah’s mother, Chana (Sofie Grabol), who lives on the first floor and does not approve of Maja at all. It becomes quickly apparent that Chana is highly overprotective of Leah, as she repeatedly called her daughter while she was living with Maja and continues to hover over her now that Leah is back in London. It also becomes apparent there is more going on than Maja ever thought.
Chana and Leah hail from an Orthodox Jewish community, and Maja struggles to find her footing. Noticing that Chana and Leah’s flats are adorned with symbols from Jewish culture, Maja, in good faith, decides to learn more. Venturing out into the community, she visits a Jewish bookstore, where she meets the store’s owner Lev (David Dencik). Lev and Maja become friends, and she is astounded to learn Lev is Maja’s cousin.
When Chana learns that Lev and Maja have become friends, she forbids Lev from speaking to her—an action that clues Maja in that something sinister is going on. Sure enough, Maja’s suspicions are confirmed when she learns that since Leah was a child, she has been besieged by a dybbuk, an evil spirit in Jewish lore. Chana’s overprotective nature stems from her desire to save her daughter from its influence.
At its core, Attachment is a demonic possession thriller, but where most films in this genre are rooted in Catholic doctrine, this one grounds itself firmly in the Jewish tradition, giving viewers something new and unexpected. Gislason does not stop with dybbuks; he also invokes the Golem as well as Kabbalah. These topics may seem out of place in our modern culture, but Gislason, who is Jewish himself, never once adopts a condescending attitude towards them. Instead, in his hands, the dybbuk is a terrifying entity—one that wants nothing more than to destroy Leah and all that she loves.
But, as stated earlier, Attachment draws its power by mining the anxieties that come with a new relationship. Maja is clearly out of her element in Leah’s ultra-Orthodox community, and Chana can barely hide her disgust.
Part of this resentment is because Chana sees herself in Maja. She reveals she was not originally a part of this community either; she married into it. After converting, Chana’s husband left her. Now alone in a world that was never hers, Chana has had to make the best of it. Meeting a new partner’s family can be nerve-wracking, and Gislason knows this. He ferociously runs with this and successfully turns common anxieties into supernatural horror.
Attachment is a slow burn of a thriller with subtle scares. Gislason does not opt for conventions. There are no jump scares, nor is Leah’s possessed form too demonic looking. Here, the emphasis is on atmosphere—Gislason is out to unnerve the viewer and he does this by keeping matters low key. The classics of the possession genre, such as The Exorcist, are often brutal and visceral, but Attachment keeps it subtle and, in the process, creates a genuinely unsettling movie.
With its slow-burn plot and complete absence of gore or jump scares, Attachment may not be for everyone, but Gislason has nevertheless crafted a solid entry into the possession film subgenre. Attachment takes its time getting where it’s going, but patient viewers will be rewarded with an atmospheric, unsettling horror film tapping into common new relationship anxieties that won’t subside anytime soon.
Shaun Corley is an East Coast pop culture enthusiast who loves to write about everything entertainment. He’s a big, important ScreenRant writer who has many leather-bound books (and comic books) and whose apartment smells of rich mahogany.
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