Religious possession films are nothing new in the horror genre. The vast majority of films that tackle this topic draw inspiration from Christianity and Catholicism. Yet, more and more, we are seeing possession films drawing from religions and folklore of other cultures. One recent film that dives into this is the Shudder original film, Attachment.
Written and directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason, making his feature-film debut, Attachment tells the story of a Danish former actress named Maja (Josephine Park) and a Jewish academic from London named Leah (Ellie Kendrick). The two women have a chance encounter at a library, and from that moment on they have a deep romantic connection. When Leah has to return home to England after having a mysterious seizure and injuring her leg, Maja goes with her. But Leah lives in a flat with her very traditional, and overprotective, Jewish mother, Chana (Sofie Gråbøl). The longer Maja stays in the home with Leah and Chana, the more she realizes Chana is harboring a dark secret.
One of the things that really makes this film so compelling is that we are viewing everything through Maja’s eyes. She is the outsider in Leah and her mother’s culture, just like many viewers will be. Audiences are already familiar with Catholic and Christian ideas because that is what is most commonly depicted in film. It helps those who are not familiar with Orthodox Jewish customs to enter the culture from Maja’s point of view so we can learn along with her. Maja is also wonderful because of how willing she is to educate herself and immerse herself in the culture the woman she loves was raised in. She is an outsider, but a conscientious one. This point of view also allows for the plot to gradually reveal new information and unravel the mystery in a compelling, edge-of-your seat way. For the most part, the various religious and folkloric elements of the film are presented in a way that makes sense for those unfamiliar with them, but there are one or two instances where the plot could have benefited from further explanation.
While Maja and Leah’s relationship is absolutely beautiful and wonderful to watch develop, the relationship between Maja and Chana is what really drives the tension in Attachment. Really, both women want the same thing. They love Leah and will do whatever it takes to protect her. Where the complication arises is in how these women go about caring for Leah and their differing opinions on what they believe is best for her. It leads to some tense clashes and creates a really fascinating dynamic as the audience watches two women in conflict, when ultimately they have the same goal. Their conflict begs the question, is it better to keep secrets from those you love, or to tell the whole truth, even if it could sacrifice their happiness?
All three women in Attachment deliver phenomenal performances. Park portrays Maja as someone who is a bit down on her luck and broken, yet finding Leah and caring for her gives Maja a new purpose in life. She is kind and loving and will go to any lengths for those she loves. Park also has fantastic chemistry with Kendrick, who plays Leah. While Kendrick is wonderful and makes Leah a relatable character, where she really shines is in the moments when Leah is overcome by evil. The way she changes her entire physicality and speech is truly spine-chilling. Meanwhile, Gråbøl might give the most powerful performance of the film. She is able to make Chana seem rude, loving, sinister, mysterious, threatening, kind, and everything in between depending on the scene and who she’s interacting with. Individually these performances are great, but together they are truly fantastic.
Attachment is a beautiful, intimate character drama wrapped in a religious possession horror film. Gislason manages to create a film that tackles themes of queerness and Judaism in a way that brings tension and suspense, but also addresses these elements in a compassionate way. The characters are fascinating to watch, and each performance is beautifully done. Each element of Attachment draws the audience in, developing characters alongside the suspense, until the unsettling and heart-felt climax. This is sure to be a favorite horror film for many viewers in 2023.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10