Fantastic Fest 2022: ATTACHMENT is an Insightful Blend of Queer and Religious Horror

A trio of committed performances balances two worthy subjects of terror in Gabriel Bier Gislason’s debut feature

After a meet-cute in the library at her university in Denmark, study-abroad student Leah (Ellie Kendrick) and former children’s programming actress Maja (Josephine Park) begin a whirlwind romance. When Leah injures her leg after a mysterious seizure ahead of a trip back home to London, Maja decides to follow Leah back home to care for her. Leah welcomes Maja into her flat, located above the home of Leah’s orthodox mother Chana (Sofie Gråbøl) in the Hasidic neighborhood of Stamford Hill. As Maja struggles to navigate the traditions of her partner’s mother and the expectations of their neighborhood, she must also contend with the supernatural forces that may be at the root of Leah’s worsening condition.

While there are many religious horror films, it’s rare to see films that don’t use the tropes and trappings of their faith-based subject to carry a weak story, that don’t center around a crisis of faith as the main character arc, or don’t attempt to use their film as a method of conversion. I was nervous heading into Attachment, a horror film that features both Queer and religious themes; there’s fertile territory worth exploring in either subject, but either the LGBTQ+ community or the Hasidic community (or both) risk being othered as a source of the film’s horror. Writer-director Gabriel Bier Gislason skillfully balances each of his subject matters, exploring the contradictions and compassion at the core of each with sincerity and dramatic weight. Neither religion nor orientation is made to suffer at the expense of the other for the sake of the story. Instead, each is seen as a crucial facet of the main characters’ identities, with both playing important roles in confronting the supernatural evil afflicting Maja.

Much of the film is centered around the fascinating character dynamics between the lead couple and the religious mother who challenges them. Both Maja and Chana want the best for Leah, and as Maja uncovers Chana’s past as a woman who also hails from Denmark, they realize both have more in common with one another than they think; however, the traditions of Chana’s Hasidic faith are as much of a wedge in Maja and Chana’s contentious relationship as Chana’s growing realization of daughter Leah’s orientation. Each of the actresses deftly navigates the nuances of their characters throughout the film. Park’s Maja struggles to reckon her headstrong and outspoken nature with Chana and Leah’s more reserved approaches to life, and Maja riskily thrusts herself headfirst into Hasidic culture in order to provide a needed helping hand to both her partner and their mother. As Leah, Kendrick faces a classic trope of a more secular daughter reckoning her faith and relationship with her sole parent with their emerging identity, risking being forced to choose between two equal kinds of love. Gråbøl turns in a powerhouse performance as Leah’s mother Chana, who reveals herself as having many similar traits as both her daughter and her partner, but has willingly followed a faithful life in order to pursue her own higher sense of belonging and fulfillment.

Gislason’s screenplay manages to explore the intricacies of these characters in compelling ways, while also delivering on the scares audiences expect from a horror film. Unfolding in a fashion that echoes Rosemary’s Baby, Maja’s immersion into Hasidic faith (by way of welcome appearances by character actor David Dencik) gradually awakens her to the realization that all isn’t right with Leah and Chana. From creaks in the night to seizures to poisonings, many of the horrors of Attachment seem rooted in the toxic relationship between the central mother and daughter, until the religious horror at the story’s core makes itself very well known. The film’s pivot into externalized supernatural horror doesn’t cheapen the story that came before it. Rather, it augments the actions of Chana and Maja in ways that further their emotional complexity. By uniting Queer and Religious Horror, Gislason’s film recognizes how the parts of us that may be condemned or othered by the communities we belong to are in fact our greatest strengths (and attachments) to them.

Anchored by dedicated performances by a trio of skilled actresses, Gabriel Bier Gislason’s debut feature film successfully balances the tensions of Queer romance, religion, mother-daughter relationships, and outright supernatural horror.

Attachment had its Texas premiere at Fantastic Fest 2022, with a future release coming courtesy of Shudder.

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