Attachment (Film Review): A Unique Spin on Possession
Attachment features strong chemistry and an interesting thematic spin on demonic possession, even if it restrains itself too much to be memorable.
Attachment (Natten har øjne) is a horror-drama directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason. Josephine Park plays Maja, a Danish actress who forms a romantic relationship with a woman named Leah (Ellie Kendrick). After Leah suffers a terrible seizure that results in a broken leg, she and Maja go to her home in London, where Maja meets her traditionally Jewish mother Chana (Sofie Gråbøl). Chana quickly shows herself to be overbearing and overprotective of her daughter, seemingly unwelcoming of Maja despite her best efforts. When Maja begins to notice strange occurrences in the building, all of which seem to be connected to Chana as well as Leah’s seizure, she begins believing that Chana has much darker intentions that she initially thought.
As is alluded to in the header of this review, a key part of the conflict going on in Attachment is possession. Leah has a violent seizure very early on, and as soon as talks of undead spirits from Jewish lore begin entering conversations, I thought I had the rest of the movie’s plot generally pinned down. Possession plots are hard sells for me, because even though the thought of something taking over a loved one’s body is terrifying, they often boil down to a very black-and-white battle of good versus evil that overshadows the inter-human drama. But Attachment is very much intentionally using such assumptions to set you up for somewhat of a bait-and-switch regarding character motivations. Conventional wisdom and the film’s clear efforts of leading you down one seemingly explicit direction had me genuinely fooled as to why certain characters, like Chana, were performing certain actions or behaving in certain ways. When you learn what’s really been going on and the history behind this family, these characters become noticeably more three-dimensional in hindsight, as does the situation they’ve been in.
The titular “attachment” refers to a few different types of attachments. The obvious one is the possession that Leah suffers with something demonic being attached to her. Then there’s the attachment between her and her mother, whose relationship to the possession I won’t give away. And, pivotally, Leah’s attachment to Maja, which not only is infectiously charming and believable, but finds itself fighting for control against the other attachments. Having all of these relationships and codependences clash with one another makes Attachment one of the more interesting modern takes on possession and exorcism. Every character ultimately wants the same thing, but through either improper communication or secret-keeping, they’re pitted against each other, which threatens to leave devastation in all of their lives. It’s a decent metaphor for family members growing up and moving on the way Leah plans to with Maja, with representation from minority sexual and religious groups also freshening things up a bit.
Outside of that, though, Attachment still can’t shake the derivative feeling that comes with the typical tropes and pitfalls of possession/exorcism stories like it. A lot of clichés, like the wise religious man who knows all about certain lore (David Dencik), the big exorcism ritual, slow walks down dark hallways, and common “symptoms” of possession, are still present. And while the context around them is definitely welcome, it doesn’t inject enough life into them to make them stand out considerably. There’s very little tension or thrills to be found in the film, even though the character work still keeps you concerned for everyone. The exorcism itself is very underwhelming even with what should be a powerful choice on one character’s part. The music is either blandly creepy or offputtingly upbeat. I’m glad that the film doesn’t feel the need to go excessively big or bombastic, instead trusting its characters to be the focus of the thrills. But I can’t help but maybe selfishly wish for something a bit more visually distinct or scary, especially regarding how Leah’s possession is portrayed. Having the supernatural elements be centered around Jewish tradition is nice and all, but that novelty doesn’t really elevate anything for me personally.
Attachment is a very competently directed film, but that’s about as much as I can say about its overall presentation. Outside of everyone’s great lead performances and chemistry, everything about Attachment can best be described as “serviceable”, including its ways of twisting your perceptions around. I can modestly recommend this movie to anyone who really enjoys these kinds of stories and is looking for a somewhat updated version of them. I appreciate a lot of what it tries to do both narratively and culturally, and it relatively succeeds as a whole, but I doubt it’s going to stay in my head for long at all. Still, it’s worth a watch, and I think many will be happy with what they get.
Attachment premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival on June 12, 2022, and will be available to watch on Shudder on February 9, 2023.