review by Diablo Joe
Gabriel Bier Gislason’s brilliantly subtle and terrifying “Attachment” is one of the most refreshing, surprising, and frightening debut features to come along in a while. Touching on a multitude of themes, love—both romantic and maternal—sacrifice, religion, and more, it deftly balances them against an ever-present backdrop of dread and tension to produce a highly effective and terrifying film.
“Attachment” begins with the first meeting of Leah, a student visiting Denmark, and Maja, a former children’s TV actor. The attraction between the two is instant, and the pair quickly fall for one another. “Game of Thrones’” Ellie Kendrick and Josephine Park deliver chemistry as instant as the attraction between the two women, and we become as smitten with them as they are with one another. But the joy of this budding romance is soon overshadowed by a violent seizure that sends Leah back to London and the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood where she lives with her devout mother, Chana (a brilliant performance by Danish actor Sofie Gråbøl).
Chana seems less than welcoming of Maja, but not for the reason we initially think. Wishing to understand Leah’s mother’s culture better, Maja reaches out to Lev (David Dencik), a local Judaica bookseller and scholar. Here, Gislason starts to draw Maja and the audience into the world of Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism that will define and shape “Attachment’s” horror. As Leah’s condition turns dark, Maja suspect’s her mother’s control and influence to be at its root. But is it years of maternal dominance or machinations of a more esoteric and occult nature to blame?
To Gidlason’s credit and the film’s benefit, the movie never feels exploitative in dealing with Maja and Leah’s relationship or its religious themes. Both serve the story and the picture’s emotional arc, and the latter drives the horror without ever becoming derisive or disrespectful to Judaic culture and beliefs. After years of horror genre films using the less mainstream tenets of Catholicism and Jewish mysticism with less than subtle results, “Attachment” shows how to integrate faith-based elements with innovative storytelling and still produce an incredibly scary result.
The film’s quartet of lead actors are all perfectly cast and deliver impressive, fully realized performances. Kendrick skillfully navigates all the facets of Leah’s emotional and mental states (and then some). And when called for, she becomes absolutely terrifying. Denick, familiar as the mustachioed nano-scientist in the Bond film, “No Time to Die,” brings quiet resolve and intelligence to his Talmudic scholar. The learned man role can easily be a stock trope in horror films of this type, but Denick ensures that Lev never succumbs to such pedestrian stuff.
As good—truly good—as those two are, Gislason’s fellow Danes impress even more. Providing the film’s primary point-of-view, Park’s Maja must be someone we identify with and admire, and she succeeds on all counts. We feel her love and the devotion she has for Leah, and her willingness to do anything to keep her. Maja is fiercely intelligent, and Park keeps the character grounded and resourceful. It’s a wonderful performance, and she has excellent synergy with each of her castmates, including Sofie Gråbøl, despite the two characters’ direct conflict.
And it’s Gråbøl who may have the most challenging role in the entire film. Playing a Danish woman living in London who has converted to Orthodox Judaism, the part demands switching from English to Danish to Hebrew, often within the same scene. Gråbøl navigates those transitions seamlessly, never faltering in conveying the complexity of her character. Chana is a cryptic character, deeply flawed, proud, and unafraid to stand her ground, but always with an almost impenetrable wall of emotional guardedness. It’s a part that could make her an easy character to hate, yet Gråbøl invests her with so much humanity and an air of tragedy that we can’t help but find Chana as fascinating as she is darkly confounding.
Gislason endows the film with persistent tension and impending danger that builds relentlessly. “Attachment” is horror of the type that pervades such classics as “The Changeling,” where there are no cheap scares, just a milieu of uneasiness that layers upon itself. At the same time, the director masterfully gives the audience scenes of charming tenderness and, surprisingly, humor. Maja and Leah’s first date is a brilliant little piece of filmmaking that any romantic film would envy. And Maja’s bookstore interactions with Lev are cheeky and a genuine treat. But this is a horror movie, and while those scenes fit seamlessly into “Attachment’s” story, Gislason soon reminds us what genre we’re experiencing.
Just as its title is rife with multifaceted meaning, “Attachment” is a film rich with emotional and thematic textures, all propping up a horror equally complex and layered. With such confident and mature command of his script, cast, and every other aspect of his film, Gabriel Bier Gislason has made a remarkable and across-the-board-success debut film. With luck, he could become an important voice in the horror genre.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Attachment” 4.5 out of 5 imps.