Review: Gabriel Bier Gislason’s ‘Attachment’

Attachment Review - 2022 Gabriel Bier Gislason Movie Film

Vague Visages’ Attachment review contains minor spoilers. Gabriel Bier Gislason’s 2022 Shudder movie stars David Dencik, Ellie Kendrick and Sofie Gråbøl. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.


Attachment seems like a fairly straightforward, maybe even borderline cliché, title for a horror movie. In this case, however, it’s multifaceted. In one sense, “attachment” could be read as referring to the burgeoning relationship between protagonists Leah (Ellie Kendrick) and Maja (Josephine Park), who meet by chance in a bookshop and shack up together in the latter character’s apartment almost immediately (as queer women are wont to do). Or maybe the attachment at the core of the movie is Leah’s mother, Chana’s (Sofie Gråbøl), to her grown up daughter, whom she still treats like a little girl and whose sexual orientation the older woman seems curiously unwilling to acknowledge even when she catches Leah and Maja in an intimate embrace. Worse still, Attachment may arguably hint at something much darker that’s lurking on the periphery, threatening to burst forth at any moment. 

The feature debut from Denmark-based writer-director Gabriel Bier Gislason is steeped in creepy Jewish folklore, much of which viewers learn about through Maja, whose tentative friendship with a plain-speaking local bookshop owner (scene-stealer David Dencik) helps clue her into why Chana is hiding little tchotchkes around their shared home, seemingly as protection from dark forces. Early on, when the new couple first arrives in London and an injured Leah is physically forced into bed by her overbearing mother, Chana gifts Maja a necklace that’s supposed to ward off evil spirits. There’s plenty of talk about demons and Jewish mysticism, and it’s all presented at face value, which forces Maja, and the audience, to accept what she’s being told even when it seems like everybody is acting a bit nutty. 

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Attachment Review - 2022 Gabriel Bier Gislason Movie Film

The catalyst for Leah returning home, with her brand-new girlfriend in tow, is a mysterious seizure. Thus, most of Attachment takes place in a single location as the three women attempt to co-exist while Maja and Chana essentially fight over Leah. Anybody who’s tried desperately to get along with their in-laws only to be met with indifference or even outright hostility will empathize with Maja’s struggle. Park, for whom the part of Maja was written, does a very fine job communicating how torn the interloper is between the woman she loves and the woman she’s forced to love to keep her, while Gråbøl, an world-renowned Danish star, brims with decades of untapped pain — especially after Leah reveals that Chana remained in England after her husband left, in an ill-fated attempt to acclimate to a community she was never really a part of to begin with. 

A wide-eyed Kendrick, meanwhile, talks a mile a minute and remains endearingly chirpy no matter how uncomfortable things get, reacting to each new development with alacrity, which makes what gradually happens to her that much more jarring. Without spoiling anything, Attachment employs various tactics we’ve seen before in both exorcism and body horror films — there’s even a touch of The Evil Dead to the makeup — as the true nature of Chana’s concern for Leah is unveiled. The question of whether Chana is a villain or simply a sad, lonely woman is left opaque, while Maja isn’t treated like she’s necessarily in the wrong for trying to get Leah away from her either — even when she goes to extremes to do so. This kind of premise typically plays out solely with Catholics and straight characters, so it’s refreshing to see something not just different but intriguing and strange. 

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Attachment Review - 2022 Gabriel Bier Gislason Movie Film

Notably, Attachment also has some interesting overlap with Disobedience, Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 movie about a forbidden lesbian relationship, which is also set in a strict, Orthodox Jewish community in London, from the setting to the wigs the women must wear when venturing outside their homes. And much like that movie, the central relationship is tender, moving and completely believable. Maja and Leah’s meet-cute is suitably sweet, nerdy and awkward, their chemistry obvious from the outset. Gislason ensures they remain the focus throughout, even when candles are mysteriously re-lighting themselves and Maja starts seeing shadows dancing in the corners. Although Attachment is undeniably a horror movie, it’s also a sensitively played queer romance and a dissection of the way certain women bind themselves to strict edicts as a kind of self-protection. 

The writer-director doesn’t cast judgement on Chana or Maja, presenting them as equally correct in their chosen stances. Showing Maja all the different demons in a book could feel expository, but it serves as an informative introduction into a culture of which many viewers will be unaware. Aside from establishing that, in this community, the idea of demonic possession isn’t even remotely out there, it also gives Maja an opportunity to voice the kind of concerns most normal people would have when confronted with something so bizarre. Thus, her motivations make complete sense even as it becomes clear Leah can’t run from her true nature. Kendrick demonstrates her impressive physicality as Leah grows increasingly isolated from her mother, with some gnarly body horror requiring the actor to contort into all kinds of shapes. And Park is believably freaked out while always staying firmly on her girlfriend’s side. 

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Attachment Review - 2022 Gabriel Bier Gislason Movie Film

Attachment isn’t a particularly frightening movie, but Gislason seems more interested in making his audience think and feel than freaking them out. That he accomplishes this while also telling a cohesive tale of demonic possession and religious persecution, with splashes of well-judged eeriness thrown in for good measure, speaks to the strength of the storytelling and the performances alike. Gislason is certainly one to watch in future, particularly if he delves a bit darker.

Attachment releases February 9, 2023 on Shudder.

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.

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