Alleluia review

Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz serves up a stylish psychological horror with Alleluia. Here's Tom's review of a captivating film...

Do you remember a time when internet dating was a bit creepy? When the prospect of meeting a complete stranger and hoping to fall in love was viewed with suspicion or concern? With the popularity of dating apps like Tinder those fears have faded, but Fabrice Du Welz’s Alleluia sinisterly taps the throbbing vein of horror that courses through the concept.

Alleluia is a fictionalised version of the story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, first told in Leonard Kastle’s 1969 pulpy cult horror, The Honeymoon Killers. They were a serial killer couple who lured their victims using lonely hearts ads before brutally murdering them, racking up around 20 victims in total.

Du Welz’s killers are less prolific but just as disturbing. We begin with Gloria (Lola Dueñas) forced into a date as her friend accepts an online request despite her protestations. She’s a likeable presence – the kind of cheery middle-aged woman you’d find in any neighbourhood – so when she arrives to meet Michel (Laurent Lucas) at a restaurant the alarm bells start ringing and never stop.

She’s all silence and meek stares but he’s full of easy talkative charm. His words are compelling and reassuring for Gloria as she sits there so timidly you can practically see the crosshairs encircling her. Du Welz shoots their dialogue in complementary over the shoulder shots that reveal only half of the speaker’s face. It’s a wily decision, adding mystery and murky darkness to an otherwise mundane conversation and demonstrating perfectly the balance of truth and lies on a first date. How much do you reveal of your real self versus the self you want your date to see? In this case, very little.

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When they wake up together in her apartment the next morning, Gloria’s ecstasy is obvious. It’s been a long time since a night like that. Inevitably, her gratitude breeds blind devotion and minutes later, Michel has tricked her into lending him a large sum of money.

It’s here where the film and Gloria’s personality take a fearless nosedive into the violent depths of the human psyche. She tracks Michel down through a succession of nightclubs, rinsed in vivid primary colours reminiscent of Only God Forgives or Dario Argento’s giallo horrors. The couple reconcile in a move that’s hard to understand but just about believable considering their fragile psychology. She is so painfully desperate that she’s willing to stay with Michel while he seduces other women and he is so stunned that someone is willing to overlook his behaviour that he accepts her devotion without comment.

Du Welz’s directorial style creates the perfect balance between everyday realism and the fractured mental state of the two leads. The image is full of scuzzy grain and long takes but also stylised close-ups and vivid colour. The latter is to be expected from DP Manuel Dacosse who recently worked on neo-giallo, The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears, and here he provides excellent support for his director’s vision.

This stylistic force comes to a head during Michel and Gloria’s first mutual seduction. Michel has just married Marguerite (Edith le Merdy) and Gloria stays in their house, posing as Michel’s sister until she sees their intimacy for herself and becomes overwhelmed by jealousy. The throbbing slo-mo of this first murder is truly nightmarish and breathlessly intense and with one rush of blood to the head, Gloria is suddenly by far the creepier of the two.

Lola Duenas is incredible at capturing the desperate devotion of her character as well as the murderous joy she discovers in this outlet for her rage. Her descent into insanity is beautifully judged and appropriately wacky at times, such as her deadpan Sweeney Todd moment and a hilarious encounter with second victim Gabriella (Anne-Marie Loop). Michel is earnestly explaining the completely fabricated predicament of a Catholic African community to the religious Gabriella while Gloria literally laughs in her face at Michel’s lies. She just about passes off her reaction as tears of sorrow, but you can sense her incredulity that they’re somehow getting away with this charade.

Lucas is also excellent as the controlling womaniser who suddenly gets in over his head, and he brings a sickening reptilian quality to his moments of seduction. One of the biggest problems is how any of their victims managed to fall for Michel and Gloria’s lies, but the pair’s excellent chemistry and convincing performances restore plenty of believability.

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The repetitive cycle of seduction, jealousy and death grows a little tiring, but the superb lead performances and confident direction find enough nuance in such a restrictive template. Above all this is a film reliant on the flaws and quirks of human psychology and it succeeds thanks to the intriguing character arcs of the two leads.

Alleluia is deeply unsettling and often sickening, but it is also full of thrilling and ingenious moments that make this a captivating psychological horror.

Allelulia is out in UK cinemas on the 22nd August.

Rating:

4 out of 5