Home Video Hovel: Alleluia, by Aaron Pinkston
Fabrice Du Welz’s Alléluia opens with Gloria, a 40-something single-mother and morgue assistant, at work prepping a dead, naked body. It’s an intimate moment, more sad than clinical. It is a peculiar but apt way to begin the film, which devolves into a horrific state while never losing a sense of loneliness and despair from its main character. The film then immediately transitions to Gloria hesitant to accept an online date request despite the enthusiastic goading from her young daughter and a friend. Michel is very handsome and Gloria is desperately lonesome, so it is worth a low-stakes lunch. Just as she accepts the invitation we see Michel, alone in a dark room, performing some sort of ritual asking some unseen force to help Gloria fall for his charms. It is a truly knockout opening, but one that doesn’t quite let on where this is going.
Once Gloria and Michel meet for lunch, she is obviously nervous and a little timid, but immediately charmed. Michel, who claims to be a shoe salesman, puts on a sophisticated performance good enough to work his way into Gloria’s home that evening. They make passionate love, shot like a dream bathed in red light and hazy music. The entirety of their first encounter is lush and sexy, but constantly a little off.
When Gloria realizes that Michel is a scumbag, she is already hooked on him. So she offers him an unexpected deal: she will let him have his affairs and misdoings as long as he remains truly with her. She is taking an active role in her own life possibly for the first time ever, leaving her job and daughter behind to travel with Michel, posing as his sister as he continues to seduce women for their money. It’s a flawed design that ends in torment and a lot of blood. Through the excitement and pain, jealousy and lust, something awakens in Gloria that shoots her directly into madness.
By the end of the film, Gloria is nearly a literal monster, all hisses and id. It is a really strong performance from Almodóvar veteran Lola Dueñas, one that reaches depths you wouldn’t expect from the lonely, longing woman at the start. Laurent Lucas is equally good as Michel, though much more understated. As Gloria becomes more and more insane, Michel almost becomes sympathetic while never losing his sense of being a despicable low-rent conman. There is a touch of a resemblance with noted madman Klaus Kinski, which helps with the inherent creepiness of the character.
Alléluia is in line with the “European style” of horror, with stylistic and narrative elements of Hammer horror, Les Diaboliques and Argento’s best. The film is fairly slow paced with an interest in both intrapersonal and interpersonal turmoil that builds to break into sheer insanity. Du Welz approaches Alléluia as an art film, with an eye for composition, editing, lighting and sound. It is mostly covered in darker and deeper visual tones but with a fuzzy beauty that is reminiscent to many low-budget video nasties.
The winner of Best Picture at the 2014 Austin Fantastic Fest (along with awards for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director), it’ll likely appeal to that kind of crowd. Alléluia isn’t an over-the-top rollicking fun film that usually plays at genre festivals, but it is often gruesome and always offbeat. Scenes like an impromptu musical number and a theatrical viewing of The African Queen make the tone difficult to pin down. If Alléluia wasn’t so deranged it could be a rather touching love story – another in the recent crop of older people second chance at love genre. Du Welz works with the tenderness just as well as the insanity, making Alléluia quite the strange treat.