The 2022 horror film “Attachment” (premiering February 9 on the Shudder streaming service) takes its name from “dybbuk,” a term from Jewish mythology describing the possession of a living person by a dead soul. The dybbuk clings to or attaches itself to the living person until it accomplishes some purpose or until is has been exorcised. The concept originated in Jewish mystical writings in the 16th century but was first exposed to a wide audience in S. Ansky’s 1920 Yiddish play “The Dybbuk,” which was adapted as a Yiddish-language Polish film in 1937 by the same name. (Interestingly the possessed female character in that play and film was named Leah, which is the same name as the dybbuk-afflicted character in “Attachment.”) There have been many examples of dybbuks in popular culture since then: the opening scene of the Coen brothers’ 2009 film “A Serious Man” portrays a suspected dybbuk in 19th-century Eastern Europe.
“Attachment” is a Danish film, though most of the dialogue is in English. Maja (Josephine Park) is a Danish actress, mostly known for her role as a pixie in a children’s TV show. She falls in love with Leah (Ellie Kendrick), a UK academic visiting Denmark. A leg injury results in Maja accompanying her lover back to London while she recuperates. Living with Leah in an apartment above Leah’s very religious mother Chana (Sofie Gråbøl), Maja is bothered by Chana’s hostility towards her. (“No one cares about you,” Chana tells Maja but Leah interprets that to mean “no one is scrutinizing you because you are a Goy.”) Amulets hidden in the apartment, rock salt in the corners of the rooms, candles that relight after being blown out–all of these odd things and happenings lead Maja to reach out to orthodox Jewish bookseller Lev (David Dencik) for help understanding what Leah’s mother may be up to. Initially helpful, Lev backs away when he realizes that Maja’s girlfriend is the daughter of his sister.
This is a ghost story, so there is very little gore but lots of atmosphere, tension and surprises, especially after the couple escape to Denmark and Maja–who has been skeptical about the existence of the dybbuk–begins to acknowledge that something is deeply wrong with Leah. And there are also some humorous moments, like when Lev asks Maja if she has heard of the Kabbalah. “The Madonna thing?,” she replies.
What sets writer/director Gabriel Bier Gislason’s “Attachment” apart from most horror films is the beautiful acting by his entire cast. Park and Kendrick’s love story is believable and tender and Sofie Gråbøl’s “superstitious” mother never seems entirely deluded or one-dimensional. If you liked the recent Bulgarian horror film “The Offering” you’ll definitely want to check this one out on the Shudder channel this month.
Premieres February 9 on Shudder.