Certain crimes are so memorably horrific that filmmakers seem compelled to re-create them on-screen, over and over again. The murders committed by Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, who were dubbed the Lonely Hearts Killers when they were apprehended in 1949, have now inspired at least five feature films, the first of which was made so quickly that it premiered before they were executed in 1951. The most famous version remains Leonard Kastle’s cult classic The Honeymoon Killers (1969), but there’s also a highly acclaimed Mexican take, Deep Crimson (1996), as well as the less fondly received Lonely Hearts (2006), starring Jared Leto and Salma Hayek as Fernandez and Beck, with John Travolta and James Gandolfini as the detectives on their trail. The latest iteration, Alléluia, from Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz (Calvaire), slightly fictionalizes the characters (they have new names, at least) and shifts the action to the present day, updating the story for the age of internet dating. It’s still basically the same gruesome spectacle, though.
First seen impassively sponging down a nude male corpse, Gloria (Lola Dueñas, star of multiple Pedro Almodóvar films, including Volver and Broken Embraces) works in an unidentified city’s hospital morgue, a job that’s either in keeping with, or has strongly influenced, her blasé feelings about the value of human life. After meeting the handsome Michel (Laurent Lucas, who also played the lead in Calvaire) via a matchmaking site, Gloria falls madly in love, and is undeterred when she discovers that Michel is a con artist who dates lonely, gullible women for the express purpose of fleecing them. Rather than give him up, she makes herself his partner, posing as his sister while he courts other wealthy women. Gloria has a nasty jealous streak, however, and each of Michel’s conquests soon winds up dead, with every murder more grotesque than the last—which is something, considering that the first one involves a hammer. Fortunately, Gloria’s extensive experience with cadavers has prepared her well for life as a serial killer.
Calvaire (also known as The Ordeal), which established Du Welz’s reputation among fans of offbeat foreign horror a decade ago, boasted some singularly bugfuck sequences, including a nightmarish hoedown from hell. Alléluia is much more conventional, but its claustrophobic close-ups and unnerving sound design will still rattle nerves aplenty. Du Welz is also one of the only filmmakers who makes good use of Lucas, an actor with a tendency to coast on his looks and charm when he’s not being challenged; he’s well paired here with Dueñas, who brings a startling intensity to the initially mousy Gloria. The movie’s only real problem—a significant one, unfortunately—is that it isn’t really about much of anything, apart from indulging our queasy fascination with the idea of murderous lovers who prey on society’s castoffs, luring victims via personal ads (or the modern equivalent). Du Welz divides Alléluia into chapters, each one named for a woman Michel gets involved with, and by the fourth round of “he seduces, she slaughters,” a certain numbing monotony sets in. Was there a pressing need for yet another rendition of this story? Should it come around again (and it likely will), a unique perspective on the events would be welcome.