Horrifying 'Alleluia' loosely based on a true story
Just when you think that most American horror films have become too conventionally PG-13 or too timid to actually shock audiences, along comes Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz's fact-based squeamer "Alleluia" to prove it.
I can't remember the last time I flinched during a horror movie. But I did it at least twice watching "Alleluia," loosely based on the case of "The Lonely Hearts Killers" -- Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, an American serial killer couple who murdered as many as 20 women between 1947 and 1949 to steal their money.
Du Welz's updated thriller -- written with economic impact by Du Welz and Vincent Tavier -- opens with Gloria (Spanish actress Lola Duenas) washing a male corpse in a hospital morgue with disturbingly erotic overtones.
A single mom, Gloria falls for a Lothario leech named Michel (Laurent Lucas), who steals her money after a one-night stand and flees.
She tracks him down (we soon discover nobody messes with Gloria) and proposes they become partners. She'll find someplace for her daughter to stay while she pretends to be Michel's sister. He'll seduce rich women. They'll take their money.
Things go as planned. Until Gloria flips out in jealous fits and murders the women in front of Michel's genuinely shocked eyeballs.
Twisted sex and violence have long been cornerstones of modern horror. Du Welz, assisted by Belgian cinematographer Manuel Dacosse's ominously moody visuals, capitalizes on this, graphically showing how raw romantic obsession can turn humans into id monsters.
The "banality of evil" comes to mind several times in this story. Especially in a kitchen scene where the naked body of a murdered middle-aged woman lies across the table while Gloria calmly, casually picks up a large saw and begins to work on the ankles.
American films would cut away at this point. Here, Gloria just cuts away. It's flinch time.
There's nothing sanitized or safe about the violence in "Alleluia." Unlike random victims in a Hollywood thriller, we get to know these women as caring, responsible people before Gloria goes nuts.
Duenas' stunning performance is a study in damaged neediness, and a window to understanding what drives some people off the moral road. Her movie is a disturbing, visceral experience that allows us to feel what it must be like to kill out of anger, fear, impulse, obsession.
And if our humanity detectors are working properly, "Alleluia" forces us to realize there's nothing at all banal about real evil.
"Alleluia" opens at the Music Box Theatre, Chicago. Not rated, but contains graphic violence, adult language, nudity and sexual situations. In French with subtitles. 95 minutes. ★ ★ ★