I had the opportunity to witness the Jewish-Queer romance horror release Attachment at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. In my review, I described the film as “an important queer love story with a cornucopia of complex horrors rooted in the fascinating trenches of Orthodox Judaism.” Now the romantic chiller has arrived on Shudder, and just in time for the most romantic day of the year.
Attachment is the feature debut from Denmark-based writer/director Gabriel Bier Gislason, a horror romance steeped in Jewish folklore. In the film, Maja (Josephine Park), a Danish has-been actress, falls in love with Leah (Ellie Kendrick), an academic from London. After Leah suffers from a mysterious seizure Maja returns with her to her childhood home. There, she meets Leah’s overbearing mother, Chana (internationally acclaimed Danish actress Sofie Gråbøl, (The Undoing, The Killing), a woman who could hold dark secrets.
Check out my interview with all four creatives below.
Dread Central: What is Attachment about?
Gabriel Bier Gislason: Two women who meet in Copenhagen. One of them is Danish, and the other one’s English. They very quickly fall in love and have a whirlwind romance. But when Leya the English woman, has a mysterious seizure, and the subsequent accident, she’s forced to go back to London. And Maya, the Danish woman in our lead, chooses to follow and moves into her apartment in North London and discovers that her downstairs neighbor is her new girlfriend’s mother, who is a seemingly very religious Jewish woman who’s also quite passive-aggressive and seemingly hostile towards Maya. And when Maya starts noticing weird stuff at night, in the house, she slowly begins to suspect that her new mother-in-law is up to no good.
DC: Why tell this story for your debut?
GBG: It just happened. So there are two ways the film came about. Or two gems of ideas that led to the film coming about. One was that I had for a while been thinking that’d be really fun to make an irreverent Jewish horror comedy. I grew up watching so many films, horror movies that really liberally and freely interpretively drew on Christian mythology and dogmas and liturgies in this way where they clearly felt like that the freedom, just pick and choose what they wanted from that cultural tapestry without necessarily having to feel too orthodox or faithful towards it. And I thought that that was really interesting and freeing. And I really wanted to see a Jewish version of that being Jewish myself, where it was just like, there’s this rich Jewish mythology and you could tap into that and then pick and choose what you wanted.
It didn’t have to be an educational experience, but I had no real specific idea to hang onto. Then about four years ago, so Josephine and I have been friends since high school, and I think we were out drinking the night before my birthday, and Josephine told me these stories. She had told me before about an ex-girlfriend of yours and you have to, at some point, move in with your ex’s mom for a few weeks or a month, something like that. And told, not scary or awful, but very funny.
DC (to Josephine): At the beginning of the story, where’s your character, emotionally?
Josephine Park: Well, she used to be, I think, a promising actress, but now we meet her, she’s just repeating the same part that she had in a Danish Christmas show. And she’s not even doing it for TV. She’s doing it on life. So she’s stuck in her life, I think. Her mother just died, and she lives in her mother’s apartment and is just stuck. And then she meets Leya, that brings hope into her life. And she falls madly in love with her. And I think when she gets stuck with a mysterious seizure, she gets really afraid that the romantic relationship will disappear. And then she goes to London.
DC: What does the title of the film mean to you?
Sofie Gråbøl: Really, to me, it says that this is a story about love. Because love, it has so many darker rooms in the building. And I think especially for my character, when you ask her, I think she loves her daughter to death. And in the name of love, and also being a mother myself, I know it’s blurry. I mean, you are a part of my body and my… It makes you blind because some of the things you do out of love might actually be killing someone or suppressing them.
Ellie Kendrick: I think from the perspective of Leya, the character I played, her mother is such an outsider already that there is a real deep protectiveness that the two of them have over each other. That almost transcends. Yeah, I think there’s a suspicion that Maya has; there’s a moment where she says, is your mom okay with this? But I think in terms of this relationship, the mother-daughter relationship is so attached, is so knotty and connected that really both of them know, I think that it’s not about that. It’s much more complicated than her daughter being gay. That’s not really the issue. And that’s something that really drew me to this story is okay, we didn’t write a show about people in the closet.
And it doesn’t focus on the coming out moment as being the center of the story. She never has to come out to her mom. She’s just there with her girlfriend. And I think that’s really lovely. And also, it speaks to the title, the question that you are asking, of those attachments that conform, that all of the characters really have in the story where they’re all too attached to each other. There’s no space that they have. That Maya and Leya’s relationship is codependent and there’s no breathing space. The same thing with Leya and her mom, they’re all a bit too attached. And obviously, it speaks to the supernatural element that is in there. That is in the show as well, in the film as well. But yeah, it’s one of those titles that has many layers. But it’s a completely different title in Denmark.
DC: What is your relationship with the horror genre, and was there ever a horror movie that traumatized you growing up?
Ellie Kendrick: I love horror. And I’m so excited because this is the first time I’ve been in a horror movie, so I was so excited when this came through. I like so many horror films like Babadook, Carrie, The Thing, all of which are psychological horror films, which have a political point or which are exploring something really worth saying. I love that shit. When it uses the genre to be really creative. So yeah, I know that you are a big horror fan, but for me it was really exciting to get to do horror and the horror stuff that I get to do in this was a real challenge for me and such a fun place to go as an actor, when you’re doing super naturalistic stuff, you don’t normally get to distract yourself as much. So I have a lot of fun and I love horror.
DC: When you were growing up, was there anything that really-
EK: -Oh my God, yes. Loads… But I was a real wimp growing up. I was obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But even that, I couldn’t watch the vampires with the… I still have terrifying images of it. Whenever I’m in the dark and there’s a window, I think one of the vampires is going to appear.
DC: There’s one episode of Buffy that really messed me, she was in the hospital and there’s a demon killing children…
EK: Oh my God. Horrible. For me, the one weird was the one with those scorpion creatures attached at the back of the skull.
GBG: Oh yeah. They see different, they have various hallucinations.
EK: It really, really scared me as well. But I was just generally quite traumatized by it. But also strangely entranced.
GBG: “Hush” was the one that put me on. I’ve always loved horror films. The first film that I remember seeing that I thought was a horror film was when I was about four or five, I watched Dracula. Not a scary movie unless you’re four or five. But it really freaked me out.
DC: I bet.
GBG:: I’ve always really loved horror, but also one of the things I love about horror is that it’s… I feel like we now talk about horror as having become this very genre-bendy thing, but it’s always been very genre-bendy. It’s always been this thing that you can do. It can contain so many things. Like one of my favorite Brain De Palma movies is Phantom of the Paradise, which is kind of a horror movie. It’s also like a glam rock musical. It’s bananas. You can do so many things with that container. Also, just thematically, you can prove many things with it. But also the thing that I think I love about horror, and I’m going to allow myself to be a little bit pretentious filmmaker here, is that I actually genuinely think that maybe aside from musicals, it’s the most cinematic genre that exists because there’s no other genre that so clearly relies on the basic cinematic qualities of where the camera is and when and where is the cut and when.
Attachment offers a new twist on the demonic dybbuk sub-genre in horror and pairs it with an unexpectedly campy and comedic flare and sincere, personal script. Set in the Hasidic area of North London, where Gislason lived for years, the film draws heavily on Yiddish folklore art and literature, portraying a highly fictionalized — but deeply affectionate — rendering of the culture that originated them.