Directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason.
Starring Josephine Park, Ellie Kendrick, Sofie Gråbøl and David Dencik.
A Danish woman travels to England after her new girlfriend falls ill, only to find it difficult to adjust to living with her Orthodox Jewish mother – who seems obsessed with strange rituals.
The idea of shared languages is very important in the new Shudder horror movie Attachment. It is the shifting between tongues that illuminates and cements the bonds of secrecy between the film’s characters, who have the power to conceal their darkest feelings and ideas behind the veil of words only understood by part of the room. Debutant writer-director Gabriel Bier Gislason deploys Danish, Yiddish and English nimbly in order to convey the tangled loyalties and emotions at play in the centre of his chilling tale, which is as much about character as it is about supernatural threats.
Indeed, it takes a decent amount of screen time before the movie delivers any horror at all. We begin with directionless former TV star Maja (Josephine Park), who’s a minor celeb in Denmark but hasn’t acted in years, having a library-based meet-cute with British student Leah (Ellie Kendrick). Their honeymoon period is cut short when Leah has a seizure and has to fly home, but Maja decides to take the plunge and travel with her, moving in with Leah’s Orthodox Jewish mother Chana (Sofie Gråbøl). Maja finds Chana to be over-bearing and strange, which only develops into more suspicion in the face of weird objects, a candle which seems to light itself and a special soup only Leah is allowed to eat.
Gislason elegantly builds tension and paranoia throughout his film, holding tightly to Maja’s perspective as she balances her growing love for Leah with her suspicions about her mother. Park’s performance perfectly conveys her shifting emotions and her desire to get closer to Chana – they share the ability to speak Danish, but Leah doesn’t – while also maintaining a skeptical distance from her most unusual habits. The standout performer, though, is Game of Thrones star Kendrick, who is given a hugely varied slate of tones and personas to handle and expertly holds them all together as different shades of one, believable person. It’s a performance pulling together optimism, love and deep pain even the character can’t comprehend.
There’s also real intrigue in how the movie spotlights an Orthodox Jewish community in Britain. This particular branch of religion has proved fruitful for cinema in recent years with movies like the queer romance Disobedience and the solid, New York-set 2019 horror The Vigil.
Attachment is a film with a really firm grasp on its tone, combining earnest romance with its supernatural chills. It’s vitally important that we buy into the relationship between these two characters, and Gislason’s script keeps us entirely invested in two drifting souls who have found solid ground in each other. The film is also unafraid of mixing its austere, dark visuals with splashes of comedy – including in the most horrifying moments courtesy of Leah’s uncle Yev (David Dencik). These lighter moments ensure there’s a life and a vibrancy to the characters, rather than simply forcing them into being vessels for the supernatural story.
There’s an inevitability to the way that the slow-burn narrative here plays out and, certainly, the conclusion is a little too neat when the final face-off takes place. Those looking for jumps, jolts and gore won’t find much to get excited about but, for those who invest in the three women at the centre of the story, this is a compelling character-focused tale. It’s steeped in folklore and contains some solid scares but, most importantly, it delivers a romance we really want to succeed despite its challenges both natural and supernatural. We definitely don’t want them to eat the soup.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.