Queer romance, evil spirits, and generational trauma make up the new horror film Attachment: a slowly building character-driven story filled with Jewish culture, from first time direct Gabriel Bier Gislason, that greatly impresses.
Attachment begins not as a horror film, but as a rom-com, with lead characters Leah (Ellie Kendrick) and Maja (Jospehine Park) meeting in a Danish library, with Maja there dressed up as a Christmas elf come to read stories to local children. Literally running into Leah, the two of them instantly hit it off, but are both clearly filled with nervous energy. After some clunky flirting the two of them spend a passionate night together, and then in an experience that many queer people will be familiar with, Leah just never wants to leave.
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However, when Leah breaks her leg in the middle of the night during a strange seizure she’s forced to go home to London, finally having to confront the overbearing mother, Chana (Sofie Gråbøl), whose calls she’s been dodging. Going with her, Maja is somewhat taken aback when she meets Chana and sees the stressed relationship she and Leah have. Trying her best to impress her girlfriend’s mother, and to keep the peace between them, Maja begins to suspect that something nefarious is happening when she finds strange things around the apartment, and Chana begins acting strangely.
One of the more impressive aspects of Attachment is that director Gabriel Bier Gislason doesn’t lean too heavily into the horror tropes in order to tell his story. A great deal of the film plays out in ways that feel like it would be more at home in another genre, with moments that feel like a romance and others that feel like a tense familial drama story, yet throughout it all are small hints at something more. This element of horror slowly builds in the background without the audience really noticing it. The film plays a trick on you, having you almost forget that this is supposed to be a horror film, letting you settle into Leah and Maja’s story so that when the horrific does begin to happen it feels all the more shocking. You’re almost put into Maja’s shoes, where you’re expecting a fairly regular story that suddenly takes a sharp turn into the realm of nightmares.
A lot of the success of the film comes from the lead actors’ performances, with the central trio managing to draw you into an uneasy web of relationships. Ellie Kendrick and Josephine Park are wonderful as Leah and Maja, and are completely believable as a young couple; the nervousness of their first meeting, the passion and desperation to be around each other after they finally admit their feelings, and the drive to do whatever it takes to protect each other when things go wrong. The two of them end up going through a huge range of emotions and experiences across the film’s run time, and there’s never a moment where it feels unbelievable or forced. They have an easy and natural chemistry that’s so charming and entertaining that if there were no horror elements in the film and it was just a romance story it would still be wonderfully entertaining.
Sofie Gråbøl, on the flip side, injects so much dark and stressful energy into the mix that she almost feels like an oppressive and malevolent presence in the story. She portrays the overbearing mother wonderfully, and you can understand why Leah initially ran away to another country to get away from her. Every scene between her and Leah ends up with enough awkward energy that even you as the audience kind of want to slink away just to avoid it, and you can’t help but feel awful for Maja stuck in the middle of it, trying to keep her girlfriend happy whilst also trying to win Chana over too.
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Gislason uses the visual elements of the film to build upon these emotions, with the early parts of the film with just Leah and Maja feeling bright and open, with more open location and wider shots, but once the film shifts to London the light begins to seep out, the shots get darker, the sets get smaller and more cramped, and the angles get tighter. The entire film shifts to reflect the feelings and emotions, and enhances the experience to the point where you begin to feel desperate for a release from it yourself. And throughout it all there’s a building sense of dread as hints at bigger, darker forces at work are drip fed to the viewer.
It’s wonderful to see more diverse horror stories being told, that we’re not just being given the same kinds of stories and the same kind of monsters from Christian mythology over and over again. Attachment draws upon the Jewish faith and experience, and it helps the film to feel fresh and different. Much like 2020’s The Vigil, it showcases the fact that horror is something that is present in cultures all over the world across history, and incorporating them in respectful ways can only enhance the genre and give it new life.
Attachment is streaming exclusively on Shudder from 9th February.