by Hope Madden
There are not nearly enough horror films based in Jewish folklore. Have you ever seen a dybbuk movie? You should. So far, I’ve seen three – Marcin Wrona’s beautiful 2016 haunting, Demon; Keith Thomas’s 2021 horror, The Vigil; and writer/director Gabriel Bier Gislason’s latest, Attachment.
The thing about dybbuk stories is that I’ve never seen one go well for anyone. Fun!
On the surface – and even just below – Attachment is an astute observation on being new to the family, particularly in a situation where the relationship itself is probably not that welcome. All families are weird, but they are weird in such individual ways. Gislason picks that scab effectively, as does his cast.
Josephine Park is Maja, a Danish actress best known – really, only known – for playing Santa’s Elf in a long-defunct TV series. She literally runs into Leah (Ellie Kendrick) at a bookstore. Leah is in from London doing some research, the two fall quickly in love, and after Leah is injured during a seizure, Maja offers to return with her to London and her mother’s care.
There is something quietly astute about the way Gislason sets up the dynamic: the willfully oblivious love interest, the domineering parent (Sofie Gråbøl) unwilling to be gracious, and the insecure new love unsure how to make herself fit into the family. All of it feels authentic, even if the stakes and weirdness are clearly ratcheted up a few notches.
Attachment delivers slow-burn horror that repays close attention but never falls to gimmickry. Yes, the situation is absurd, but everyone behaves in a way that is rooted in real-world expectations and experiences.
When the film changes its point of view, you realize where its compassion really lies. Attachment is a nightmare about parenting, about releasing your everything – your beautiful, tender baby – into a vast and brutal world. At the center of the entire nightmare is love, of course, because there is no real horror unless love is at stake. It’s that knowledge that makes the film hurt.
Hug your mom.