“Attachment,” out February 9 on Shudder, is billed as a queer Jewish folk horror film, but it is steeped more in superstition than scares. Written and directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason, this Danish romantic thriller has Maja (out actress Josephine Park) meeting cute with Leah (Ellie Kendrick) in a Copenhagen bookstore. Leah, who is Jewish and British, is doing field work abroad. Maja is living off residuals and appearances from her former career as a holiday TV character.
After going back to Maja’s for tea, the young women first have some wine and then have sex. The next morning, Leah is all set to fly home, but can’t resist staying longer. Alas, she has a seizure and injures her leg, which prompts Maja to return to London with Leah. It is there where Maja meets Chana (Sofie Gråbøl), Leah’s overprotective mother.
Chana is mostly frosty towards Maja, although she does give her an amethyst amulet to protect her against demons (and the like). Maya also meets Lev (David Dencik), a bookstore owner who schools her on the Kabalah, and dybbuks, which involve the soul of a sinful dead person being hosted in a human. Given Leah’s strange behavior, it appears that all the mysticism is meant to combat evil, with Leah becoming a vessel for control.
“Attachment” depicts the power struggle for Leah’s body and mind — will the dybbuk win, or will Chana, who maintains close control over her daughter? Or will Maja, her new girlfriend who offers love?
Park chatted with Gay City News about making “Attachment.”
What appealed to you about playing Maja? She seems to be kind of lost in her life, then she meets this woman and goes down a real rabbit hole. How did you identify with her?
What intrigued me was how far you would go for someone you love? I loved that. It was very much a romantic love story, but also a love story between a mother and a daughter. That was what I found beautiful about this story. Gabriel, the writer-director, was my friend from high school. We were having dinner and I told him about my very crazy ex-mother-in-law — I used to have a girlfriend with a crazy mother — and he said, “I’m going to write a movie about this, and you will play the lead character one day!”
This is a Danish, queer, Jewish folk horror film, and it is certainly open to many interpretations. It is about warding off evil and creating a “safe space” for Leah (and by extension Maja). The lesbian characters’ sexuality can be read as a reason for evil, but also that their sexuality has nothing to do with the evil forces upon them. What do you think about the way sexuality is incorporated into the story?
The way I read it, I like that it didn’t have anything to do with sexuality. It wasn’t an issue or the main story that it was two gay women, it was just there. It is not very often that you see that — there are no big issues that revolve around them being gay. I thought the sexuality had nothing to do with the story.
The “Attachment” of the title, of course, can mean the dybbuk’s, Chana’s, or Maja’s attachment to Leah. It is sort of all three. What did you think about how Leah is forced to choose between her mother and her lover while also battling a spiritual demon?
None of them really know what’s going on. Everyone is doing everything for love. It’s not that Maja wants Leah to become independent. They are all fighting for love. Leah is fighting for her mother and her lover. Maja does everything for Leah. I was really into the whole love story.
Maja tries to make a good impression in London, but Chana seems very dominating and a bit skeptical of Maja, and Maja tries to stay open for a while. She is doubting — is something wrong with me? Are all these weird things really happening? It takes a while for Maja to realize that all these strange things going on have something to do with Chana. She sees her in action. She is doubting the truth of it.
“Attachment” is billed as a horror film, but there are no jump scares here, no shocking or violent moments. What do you think about the film being classified as a genre film?
It’s more of a psychological drama. They are all trying to figure out each other. It isn’t a traditional horror film. It’s the first genre film that I’ve done. I’ve not seen a lot of genre films. There isn’t a big market for them in Denmark whereas there is in the US. It was new for me to be in this genre, so I didn’t think that much about it, because all of the scary parts are very technical, so it was more of the psychological drama that I’m into.
Did you like playing it?
I loved it. Gabriel was amazing. He made everybody trust him so quickly. But he never compromised his ideas. Some of them were kind of crazy, but people went along with them. Everyone was brave. The genre thing was fun. “Is it going to be weird?” I’d asked, and he would say, “Yes, it might be. I hope so!” I enjoyed the mix of genres — it’s a romantic movie and has a bit of comedy and horror. He made us do many versions of the same scene with a completely different approach. We trusted him blindly, but we all felt very safe.
Maja really goes above and beyond to care for Leah, a woman she only just met. I really liked the idea, raised quite well in the film, that we often care for people we fall for, but also this idea of “becoming someone else” when you are in a relationship. Can you talk about that?
When you meet Maja, she used to be a promising actress and now she is just repeating the same role as elf princess from a [once popular] TV show, in malls and libraries. I see her as a lonely person. She has just lost her mother and she’s lonely and stuck in her life. Leah comes in and makes her feel hopeful. Leah is very driven and disciplined and she has a close relationship with her mother, which Maja doesn’t have, so when Leah gets that strange attack, Maja needs to go with her because she’s afraid of losing the hope she finds in Leah. Leah awakens Maja. Maja is very passive and experiencing whatever is happening, but Maja’s journey is to take action. Leah teaches her that. Maja’s life is just happening to her, so all that happens in London makes her take more action.
What can you say about working with Ellie Kendrick and developing the relationship between Maja and Leah?
I didn’t know Ellie before, and we became friends very quickly, and it was nice to develop the character with another queer woman. It felt like that we didn’t fall into a trap of portraying queer women as stereotypes. We discussed the love relationship before we started shooting. We had a blast, and laughed so hard during production, which was a way of us bonding. We saw things the same way.
I appreciate that Maja tries to learn more about this Jewish culture. There are all kinds of superstitions, amulets, a black magic ritual, and other supernatural ideas. What can you say about the mysticism in the film? Are you superstitious?
I knock on wood 13 times a day. But I don’t have much knowledge of the Jewish culture, but it was amazing to experience it through Gabriel. I learned some Jewish rituals.
“Attachment” | Directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason | Available February 9 on Shudder