An encounter like something out of a romance novel, quite literally bumping into each other in the library, the researcher visiting her mother’s homeland of Denmark for the first time and the elf running late for children’s story time; dropped books, a pot of tea, a manic start of a friendship which soon leads to Leah’s extended stay with Maja, then Maja returning with Leah to her London flat upstairs in the same house where her mother Chana lives downstairs.
A close-knit community of Orthodox Jews, blonde Maja knows neither the language nor the customs but tries to integrate, by chance befriending Leah’s Uncle Lev when she visits his bookshop, but while she is determined to make a good impression Chana sees nothing but the needs of Leah, making no effort to include Maja or make her welcome, and standing on the outside she begins to see toxic patterns which complicates her relationship with both of them.
The feature debut of writer and director Gabriel Bier Gislason, Attachment could have multiple meanings, the relationship between Leah and Maja which moves between meeting and living together in an afternoon, neither of them prepared for its intensity or how it would change their lives, Chana’s overbearing protectiveness of her only child and rebuttal of any attempt to come between them, Maja’s apparent willingness to remain near her suffocating mother, or the unspoken darkness which Maja comes to understand Chana believes hangs over their lives and drives their behaviour, a dybbuk.
A possessing spirit of ill intent, in an environment where such things are accepted as existing somewhere on the spectrum between faith, mysticism and the occult, can Maja believe this as well, or is Chana’s erratic behaviour a symptom of untreated mental illness? Does Leah defend her mother because she understands this or because she suffers the same irrational impulses herself, the sleepwalking and strange fits she suffers from a symptom of a deeper underlying issue?
Released as Natten har øjne in Denmark, literally “the night has eyes,” Attachment offers no easy answers because no one is asking the difficult questions or telling the full truth, closing ranks against the outsider; Maja a guest on tenuous ground, does she truly know the woman she has followed to a foreign country well enough to make judgements about her life and culture and the rules which must be obeyed, never to leave a book open lest a demon read it and gain knowledge, to keep a candle burning to keep the demons away.
Built around Maja, Leah and Chana and their unbalanced triangle of undoubted but obsessive love, the trio of Josephine Park, Ellie Kendrick and Sofie Gråbøl are all fully committed and convincing in difficult roles with suitable sympathetic support from David Dencik’s concerned Lev, keeper of the forbidden texts, and despite its obvious but perhaps unavoidable conclusion given the subject Attachment is a compelling drama of devotion and the sacrifice it sometimes requires.
Attachment will be available on Shudder from Thursday 9th February