There’s a lot to love in writer/director Gabriel Biers Gislason’s feature film debut, the queer romantic horror Attachment. That’s both a general critical assessment and a summation of the movie’s intended takeaway, as the Danish director uses the basic structure of the tried-and-true possession horror story to explore the–often complicated–nature of love, relationships, and codependency.
Attachment follows Maja (Josephine Park), a Danish children’s television actress whose fifteen-minutes have long since ticked by. Rushing to make a paid appearance at a local bookstore, Maja stumbles into a rom-com-ready meet-cute with London-based student Leah (Ellie Kendrick). The two hit it off, and fall quickly into bed–and in love–with one another. All seems well for the pair of whirlwind romantics until Leah suffers a sudden mysterious seizure, one that ends with a broken leg and a flight back to London. Unable to bear the idea of being without Leah, Maja insists on joining her in the trek back home.
Home is a small, Orthodox Jewish community in London, on the top floor of a shared duplex with her mother, Channa. Channa has continued as a devout practitioner of Orthodox Judaism in the years following the disappearance of Leah’s father, despite coming from a relatively liberal Jewish family herself. Even with Maja’s desperate attempts to make a good first impression, Channa is cold and obsessively controlling of her daughter, in ways that Maja cannot understand.
Seeking solace and some kind of knowledge of the Orthodox Jewish faith so that she might better relate with her new beloved’s dear old mum, Maja makes the acquaintance of a local bookseller, Lev. The kind–if not entirely forthcoming–bookseller begins to clue Maja into certain elements of Kabbalah, or the mythologies of Jewish mysticism. Spurred on by these new fractional bits of knowledge, Maja attempts to uncover the truth behind Channa’s suspicious–and potentially dangerous–behavior.
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Attachment is billed as a horror film, but for much of its runtime doesn’t read like one. Gislason eschews formal scare for an ever-present sense of dread by drilling down into the minutiae of Maja’s relationship anxieties. Maja is rudderless. She can no longer find fulfillment or identity in the children’s television character that made her successful, and the loss of her mother weighs as heavy around her neck as the talisman Channa gifts her midway through the film. Channa, too, is lost without Leah, having tied all existential purpose to the wellbeing of her daughter. The two exist as moons, orbiting Leah in opposite directions.
The drama play is buoyed by uniformly strong performances across the board. Game of Thrones alum Ellie Kendrick makes the most out of a role that requires passivity for the film’s central third, shining especially bright in her early scenes with Josephine Park. The pair have a natural, nervous chemistry that lends credence to Maja and Leah’s instant bond.
Where Attachment begins to sputter is its final act, when all of the mostly alluded-to supernatural elements become explicit. The machinery of what amounts to a relatively boilerplate possession horror climax suddenly overtakes the intimate character drama that preceded it. There is certainly something refreshing about fore-fronting the Judaic mythology and the Orthodox Jewish community–a sorely underrepresented and (often) misunderstood group–onscreen in a way that does not “other” them. Lord knows (pun intended) that the horror world has plenty of Catholicism-centric stories, already. But really, when the time comes for out-and-out scares, Gislason’s heart just doesn’t seem to be in it.
For all the talk of demonic spirits, golems, and dybbuk’s, Attachment knows that there’s no hellish figure half as terrifying as the prospect of losing yourself in another person, especially when you might lose them, too.