Friday, August 15, 2014

'Alleluia' (2014) directed by Fabrice Du Welz

Bloody hell.  Grinding industrial electronic music blasts over the end credits of Alleluia.  I look around the screening to see a roomful of people exhaling in relief, some grinning at what they'd just been through, some wide-eyed and staring like conscripts returning from a very bad war.  Alleluia is intense.  Alleluia is traumatic.  Alleluia is nauseating. Alleluia is sadistic. Alleluia is downright demented.

Taking inspiration from the real life "the Lonely Hearts Killers", Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck , Welz' film lures us down into a pitch-black cellar, entangling love and murder, romance and sadism.  The centre of the film is the relationship between Gloria (Lola Dueñas) and Michael (Laurent Lucas), who meet over internet dating.  Even before they're together they emanating sinister vibes; the film opens on a shot of morgue-worker Gloria washing a corpse and the first time we meet Michel he's engaged in a quasi-occult masturbatory ceremony designed to get Gloria to "succumb to his charms".

Clearly he's onto something because they immediately get on the right foot, Michel playing the debonair manipulator while Gloria looks on with shy adoration.  The two quickly team up, weaselling their way into lonely women's lives, conning them out of money and murdering them.  Surprisingly it's the mild-mannered Gloria that goes full-bore homicidal, transforming from housewife and mother into bloodthirsty predator, getting sexual joy from crushing windpipes and caving skulls in. 

This dizzying carousel of blood, sweat, tears and cum is shot on grainy handheld camera, with a penchant for tight-close ups on the staring eyes of their shocked victims and the erotic joy on the killer's faces.  Welz' lens roams around this horrible couple, implicating us within their crimes as silent observers.  Structurally the film is divided into four acts; which correspond to four women within the film.  Within this are a series of tonal peaks that allow us a brief respite of domestic safety before descending into blood-soaked carnage.  Disturbingly, we find ourselves anticipating the chaos, looking forward to the quick-cut bravura film-making that accompanies the most brutal scenes.

Like the corpses Gloria and Michel leave in their wake Alleluia is narratively pared down to the bone.  Every inch of fat has been sliced away leaving a 90 minute rollercoaster of a movie that, once it gets going, never eases up.  Bravura moments are a nightmarish sequence where we see the naked killers dancing around a bonfire. The shots are sliced up into a disorientating whirlwind of flames, blurry appendages and screaming, ecstatic faces.  All this to a seriously intense electronic soundtrack that bludgeons us about the head with screeching distorted sonic shards.  It's full on, man.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is an intensely creepy shot of a dull-eyed Gloria standing next to a nude corpse laid out on a kitchen table.  Her gaze bores right through the screen as she breaks into a impromptu song, apparently for our benefit alone.  There's a sickly, tangible 'wrongness' to what we're seeing that turns the stomach green - the scene reminiscent of the gross fuckuppery of Chris Morris' Jam.

Even outside these highlights the film is constantly shot through with careful framing and beautiful lighting.  Highlights are primary-coloured nightclub and cinema sequences at - the characters wallowing in cold electric blue and hellish red light.  These moments stand out a mile compared to the desaturated reality of the rest of the movie, which has a camcorderish home movie quality that makes the violence that much more palpable.

Similarly impressive is the way Welz uses cinematography to tell the story in place of expository dialogue.  In an early scene we see Gloria and Michel in the throes of passion in a darkened room.  Michel's side of the frame is wreathed in pitch darkness while Gloria's still has spots of light illuminating her.  As the two come together they're drawn down into Michel's dark world, the light vanishing from the frame as they furiously rut on the grubby floor.  The handheld style gives a free, loose sensation to the film, making it seem improvised - but the careful framing proves that every frame is carefully calculated to maximise horrible, creepy nausea.

Another arrow in Welz' quiver is devastingly close-ups.  The camera is often tightly locked on Dueñas' face, which we see progressing from romantic innocence to homicidal fury. Dueñas is simply magnificent, her Gloria a genuinely terrifying cinematic creation, reminding me Charlotte Gainsbourg's 'She' in Antichrist.  As she moves in for the kill her eyes roll back in her head like a Great White about to take a chunk out of an unsuspecting diver.  In the opening scenes you assume that arch-manipulator Lucas' Michel is going to be the leading villain, but both actor and character are quickly overshadowed by Dueñas' Gloria, a straight-up tour de force role.

This graphic, amoral  carnage play quickly reminded me of the casual brutality of Rémy Belvaux's monstrous 1992 classic Man Bites Dog.  So it was with no surprise that I later learned the films share a co-writer, Vincent Tavier.  These films are the cinema of a grand guignol; gouts of sticky blood leavened with the blackest of black humour. Be warned, Alleluia is emphatically not a fun watch, it's a nasty, sick little bastard of a film where the innocent are slaughtered while the killers giggle and fuck.  

Alleluia has a black, ichorously Satanic heart but though it's up to its eyeballs in evil it's a goddamn brilliantly constructed film. Perhaps not a great date movie, but perfect fodder for aficionados of extreme cinema, those who crave intense weirdness and perverts of all stripes. My feel-bad hit of the summer.


Alleluia is released  22nd August

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