An online dating service matches up two uniquely desperate souls in Alleluia, a lurid exercise in pseudo-camp from Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz. Loosely modeled on the story of the “lonely hearts” serial killers of 1940s Americana (immortalized in Leonard Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers from 1969), the film pairs a lonely mortuary assistant with a dashing, disturbed conman. They run rampant through the verdant Ardennes region of Belgium, but Du Welz and director of photography Manu Dacosse largely forsake natural environments, attempting to trap viewers in the headspace of Alleluia’s two increasingly deranged and supposedly tortured protagonists. The result is effusive and stylish, but the film’s momentum is hampered by a lack of motive and an indistinct agenda.
Gloria (Lola Dueñas), distant and lined with sadness, is a single mother living in a walk-up apartment. Michel (Laurent Lucas) poses as an entrepreneur in footwear, but Alleluia hints at its midnight-movie aspirations before their first date, when Michel ritualistically burns a photo of Gloria before entering the throes of a sex-starved migraine. Dacosse films their initial encounter in disorienting over-the-shoulder shots, bifurcating faces and uniting the couple as Michel is just launching into a relentless, hammy shtick: “You’re a little like a letter from a far-off land.” After a night of torrid sex in a gloomy hallway, Michel secures a cash loan from Gloria and disappears. She tracks him down in a strip club, but instead of emasculating Michel, she swears allegiance to him, promising to assist him in further schemes targeting rich, unsuspecting women. The couple hit the road after Gloria abandons her daughter.
These dribs and drabs of absurdity become a tempest in the film’s second act, when Michel marries a widow named Marguerite (Edith le Merdy) and Gloria, posing as his sister, takes a room with the newlyweds. Rife with smash cuts, illicit groping, and basement blowjobs, the episode is a hothouse of omnipresent sexuality: The presumed sex addict and criminal Michel is rendered a willfully objectified middle manager in the face of Gloria’s fatally delirious, histrionic jealousy. This is the film’s most clever joke, boldly punctuated by a one-off musical number that plays like a grotesque homage to the “Wise Up” sequence in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. Gloria’s experience with cadavers proves useful in Alleluia’s most serene moments; she disposes of bodies as though they’re totems of her romantic fervor.
Both Dueñas and Lucas are impressively committed to their roles, but Du Welz and Vincent Tavier’s script is elusive to a fault: Its surprises come at the expense of psychological shading. What do Michel and Gloria want, and why do they enter a cycle of seduction and mutilation in order to get it? They lure a widow, an aging patron of a church, and a single mother into their trap, but there aren’t any social, political, or material through lines to suggest a method, or even a purpose, to their madness. As such, Du Welz’s film becomes very repetitive very quickly, doubling down on heaving bodies and gushing arteries in order to sustain some sense of momentum. The director’s fetish for invasive close-ups and spatial incoherence comes to seem an aesthetic gimmick, promising a sense of intimacy that never comes to pass, as his film devolves into a genre film that presumes it has the imprimatur of psychological horror. Camp needs a target in order to thrive, but the only axe Alleluia has to grind is the one bound for its parade of helpless, pointless victims.