[Interview] Gabriel Bier Gislason for ATTACHMENT

The new horror-romance film ATTACHMENT has been making waves and possessing the souls—er, capturing the hearts—of those who love scary movies and sapphic cinema. ATTACHMENT tells the story of Leah and Maja, a newly formed couple facing down the usual challenges: overbearing parents, cultural differences, and, of course, malevolent paranormal phenomena.

Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Chloé Gold chatted with writer/director Gabriel Bier Gislason, where they discussed the inspiration behind the film, whether or not the set of ATTACHMENT was potentially cursed, and the vagueness of the film’s ending.

What was the inspiration for this film?

Gabriel Bier Gislason: There were two points. I grew up loving horror films and seeing all these great horror films that drew on a lot of Christian dogma, especially Catholic mythology and imagery, but what I really dug about them was also that there was always this irreverence to them. They’d take the parts that worked for the story and then fill in the blanks with stuff that they make up because it was more about creating a feeling or a world; it wasn’t a theology lesson. And I hadn’t seen anyone do that with Judaism on film. I’d come across it in literature and in theater, but not in film. In the Yiddish tradition, a lot of the stories around these mythological beings, and things like that, are actually really irreverent and really funny, and often take a bunch of liberties. Jewish sentiment isn’t just about reverence towards traditions or history—it can also convey a kind of playfulness. There isn’t a lot of that cultural tradition, and so I wanted to do that with a horror film.

I didn’t really have any kind of specific story in mind. And then in the summer of 2018, Josephine [Park]—she’s one of my closest friends; we’ve been friends since high school—and I went out, and we got incredibly, incredibly drunk together. And she told me the stories that she never told me before about an ex-girlfriend of hers: She and the ex had been between apartments, and then the ex had been like, ‘Oh, you know, my mom has room. We could just go crash there for a little while, while things work out. It’ll be nice. It’ll be fun.’ And they did. And it just was not very nice or fun.

The stories were so over the top, and outrageous, and also really sweet. And so, in the haze of all the liquor, [and] I just finished drama school, I was wrapping up film school, and was like, ‘I am going to write you this movie. And I’m going to make you a star.’ [laughs] And Josephine did go on to become a star. And I had nothing to do with it at all because I was still writing the movie.

The Jewish thing kind of came back to me and I started thinking about the trope of the Jewish mom, and how it’s always like, they’re incredibly overbearing, and they’re incredibly domineering. And there’s always a feeling like, everything is a matter of life or death. [Even if] it’s like, you’re gonna miss the bus, everything has these outrageously high stakes. And this idea was, but what if, unbeknownst to us, like that were true? What if it was like, ‘No, no, this shit is so real, that everything really is a matter of life and death, and we just don’t know about it’? And once that clicked into place, that really worked for me with the structure of those three women in that house.

Courtesy Shudder

What was the research process like?

Gabriel Bier Gislason: I definitely read up on Kabbalah and consulted with people who just knew about it, including some members of the ultra-Orthodox community. There’s this amazing Danish journalist called Heidi Laura who has written about Jewish occultism in culture as well, so she was a consultant on [the film]. We also had a Yiddish translator. But at the same time, I was very much intent on wanting to do what I saw those Christian filmmakers do: I wanted to take a lot of liberties and have fun with this, like, this is not a lesson in Jewish occultism. This is me taking the bits that work for my story and filling in the blanks.

So I did the research, but the most helpful research I found was actually literature from the Yiddish tradition and a lot of plays. There’s a famous play called “The Dybbuk” by S. Ansky—we gave them a little nod in the movie with this book that we’ve made [for the] film called “The Sidra Acha” [written by] “Simon Lansky.”

But the single biggest inspiration [came from] a wonderful Jewish writer called Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote a story called “The Dead Fiddler,” which is about a young woman who gets possessed by a dybbuk, and then, shortly thereafter, she gets possessed by a second dybbuk. The two dybbuks are arguing all the time, and then the rabbi is like, ‘Oh, wait, hold on. What if this is like, not a problem, but a solution?’ He somehow manages to get the two dybbuks to fall in love, he marries them, and then their honeymoon is the exorcism. And it was such a beautiful [story], but starts out really kind of disturbing. The descriptions of her body [were] kind of like body horror—that’s not in any particular Yiddish tradition, that was just him making this stuff up. And then suddenly, [the story] becomes darkly funny, and at the end, it’s just really sweet and heartwarming.

The ending of the film was sort of vague—was that intentional?

Gabriel Bier Gislason: Yes. I went back and forth on a lot in the development process and for a while, I gave [the dybbuk] a typical backstory. And then I felt like no matter what I provided, it would draw focus from what I think are the crucial relationships in the story, which are between these three women. The dybbuk is, to the extent that it’s a clear metaphor for anything, just the fucking baggage that we all carry around. Loving people, [whether that] be romantic or familial or whatever, involves having to deal with the baggage that they bring. I wanted [to convey] the feeling that the dybbuk was just that: all it wanted to be was weight, all its hold, its intent, was just to make life suck, not just for [Leah], but for the people who loved her.

Courtesy Shudder

I mean, I love the ending. I thought that the vagueness of it, and the fact that we never got a definitive answer, was the most Jewish ending possible: you can argue about the problem forever—we’re never going to come up with a solution or an answer.

Gabriel Bier Gislason: I think that’s really true—I hadn’t even thought of it that way [laughs]. We don’t have, like, a vision of the afterlife [that’s dependent on] the idea of sin and redemption. It’s like, no, you just chug along and then you die. And eventually you’ll be reanimated, and who knows? You’ll probably be fucking chugging along then, too. There’s no final boss at the end. [laughs]

In Christian and Catholic possession films, sometimes filmmakers will have, like, a priest or whoever bless the set. Was there anything like that on the set of ATTACHMENT? Anyone tie red strings around equipment?

Gabriel Bier Gislason: We didn’t. There’s a very small Jewish community in Copenhagen. I don’t know if I could have sourced any of those sort of major religious ones to actually come out and do that for us even if I’d had the idea. But to be fair, I didn’t actually have the idea. But you know, looking back, it might have been a good idea because we had so much bad luck on this. So many things went wrong. I was blessed to have some really experienced people working on the production including this amazing line producer who’s been doing this for 30 years. She came up to me and was like, “I don’t know what you did, but I’ve never seen this much bad luck on a production.”

The mood was good, though. But it always felt like we had a string of accidents that occurred—not people getting hurt, just things that screwed us production-wise. It was bananas and I did at one point say like, “I wonder if this is God deciding that I have been a bad Jew for so long, and that this movie is just the last fucking straw, and no way am I going to be allowed to finish it.” So, we did not have anyone to do that and we probably should have had someone to do that. I’ll talk to the rabbi before I make another movie.

ATTACHMENT can be seen exclusively now on Shudder. To learn more, check out our review.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *