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Attatchment 2.jpg

How 'Attachment' Uses What We Don't Know About Jewish Mysticism to Create a Mystery

By Lindsay Traves | Film | February 20, 2023 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | February 20, 2023 |

Attatchment 2.jpg

This article contains mild spoilers for Attachment.

Jewish folklore has been used in horror as early as in S. Ansky’s 1920’s play, The Dybbuk and Paul Wegeners trio of golem movies which began in 1915. Jewish texts and lore are wonderful places to get horror stories from with golems, dybbuks, and demons abound. The Talmud is rich with demonology, and Kabbalistic texts are even more direct. But Jewish scripture and history lessons aside, what’s fantastic about Attachment, Shudder’s new horror flick about a dybbuk possession, is its portrayal of Jewish mysticism in a way that makes it seem somehow like an ancient and dated practice while simultaneously familiar. Jewish mysticism, a branch of which is called Kabbalah, is a somewhat unknown practice reminiscent of what we view as witchcraft or occultism. By exploiting this confusion and using real elements of Jewish mysticism, Attachment crafts a beautiful mystery that also celebrates this gorgeous rite.

Much of modern Jewish horror has leaned on golems and the cursed (not literally) “dybbuk box.” We’ve been blessed recently with movies like Demon which plucked a dybbuk story from ancient lore, The Vigil which used real Jewish rituals to battle an evil entity, and The Offering which highlighted Hasidic practices. Attachment is in this same tradition, using Jewish lore for both its demon and how to fight it, and this time uses Jewish mysticism, and what we don’t know about it, to further its mystery.

For much of Attachment, it’s unclear who the villain is. Using Maja (Josephine Park), a non-Jewish outsider, as its lead, it creates a sense of unknown about common Jewish practices. An awkward beat stains the moment of two leads falling for each other when Maja mindlessly prepares bacon for her lover’s breakfast. Maja and Leah (Ellie Kendrick) have just met in a bookstore where Leah was grabbing a Jewish book and Maja was dressed in Christmas garb. The two quickly fall for each other, and Maja decides to follow Leah to London to stay at the duplex she shares with her mother, Chana (Sofie Gråbøl). Chana seems to disapprove of Maja in a way that makes Maja wonder if she’s perhaps homophobic or uncomfortable with her daughter dating a goy. A benign trinket (an amethyst amulet purported to ward off demons) is the innocent piece of superstition that sets off Maja’s alarms about her new love’s mother, an orthodox woman who seems strangely devout. Maja, trying desperately to get Chana to warm up to her, finds herself embroiled in trying to discover the nature of her bizarre superstitious acts. Trying both to embrace Leah’s Jewish neighborhood and to understand Chana’s strange behavior, Maja finds herself learning of ancient Jewish monsters and mystical practices.

For Maja, most of Chana’s practices of “protecting her daughter” seem strange. But for those familiar with Jewish practices, many seem commonplace. Chana prays over her wine at Friday night dinner before gazing concerned at an open text out of fear that an open book is valuable to demons. When Maja rummages through Chana’s home, she sees her sheitel (a wig commonly used by orthodox women to cover their hair) and also her potions, and bowls of crystals and amulets. The movie intentionally blends familiar Jewish cultural traditions with mystical practices to highlight how these things are not in conflict with each other, but exist as practices from the same religion. Maja is spooked when she sees Chana spewing an incantation over a bubbling cauldron, like many, not appreciating the benevolence of her tradition. The film cutting next to a bowl of comforting matzo ball soup laced with something Maja presumes to be a sinister poison further drives that concept home.

Maja’s fear is sensical when you know how much of modern occultism and witchcraft is derived from or has a place in Judaism. Crystals were on the breastplates of Kohanim, historic Jewish women used herbalism, and even tarot *might* have roots in Kabbalah. And many common Jewish rituals, like breaking a glass at a wedding or placing a mezuzah at one’s door to ward off evil, feel similar to these types of rituals. That’s what makes Chana’s practices like hiding a scroll of the Shemot in the wall or placing amulets on the girls’ necks feel so connected to Jewish practices.

Kabbalah might seem like a buzzy Hollywood fad for the likes of Madonna and Demi Moore, but there’s more to the ancient Jewish tradition. While occultist practices have long been viewed as the dark side in horror stories, Kabbalah and its place in Judaism embraces it as a form of spiritualism. Many of the symbols associated with dark arts in horror are positive spiritual symbols for Jewish mystics, and Attachment exploits that for its intentionally opaque story of a demon haunt.

When discussing the Sitra Achra, Leah’s uncle, Lev (David Dencik) and Maja come across the Witch of Endor. Lev says of her, “she’s a complicated figure, some say she’s good, some say she’s bad.” Here, Lev is dancing with the taboo of mysticism and witchcraft in some sects of Jewish orthodoxy, perhaps highlighting the very ancient traditions that drove Jewish mystics to create their own incantations.

Attachment consciously uses what seems like sinister occultist practices through the eyes of a gentile to keep the viewer guessing whether Chana is a villain. But when the film shows its cards and reveals Lev and Chana’s real intentions, it ends up highlighting a beautiful element of Judaism not often seen or celebrated on screen. The beauty of Attachment is in many places, from its queer romance to its portrayal of horror from a more seldomly explored religion. But for those who are used to hearing their mothers spit to ward of a curse, who’ve worn hamsas and evil eyes, or who’ve been gifted challah and salt in their new homes, Attachment taps into a magical exploration of the Jewish religion that allows real ancient mystical practices to shine.

Attachment is available to stream on Shudder