The Belgian-French import “Alleluia” is inspired by the late-1940s case of American criminals Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, a.k.a. the Lonely Hearts Killers. Although stylish and unsettling, the film can’t hold a candle to the 1970 movie “The Honeymoon Killers,” writer-director Leonard Kastle’s electrifying, black-and-white cult classic about the murderous pair. (The strong 1997 Mexican drama “Deep Crimson” and the 2006 release “Lonely Hearts” also concerned the Beck-Fernandez crime spree.)
Unlike “Honeymoon,” which took a stark docudrama approach to the lurid tale, “Aleluia” puts a looser spin on actual characters and events. The result is something more surreal and enigmatic but still grim and, at times, disturbingly brutal.
Director Fabrice Du Welz, who co-wrote with Vincent Tavier, sets the action in contemporary Belgium where the film’s Beck-Fernandez proxies — needy single mother Gloria (Lola Duenas) and womanizing con man Michel (Laurent Lucas) — meet on a dating website. Instantly smitten, Gloria dumps her young daughter with a friend and takes off on an ill-fated journey to help Michel bilk a string of unsuspecting widows and divorcees out of their life savings.
Because this ploy entails Michel romancing and sometimes even marrying his marks to win their trust, it ignites a homicidal jealousy in the seriously unhinged Gloria. That Gloria, a former morgue worker, knows her way around a corpse (not to mention a hacksaw) makes her quite the formidable foe, and that increasingly shocks the floundering Michel.
Duenas, a veteran of several Pedro Almodovar films, and Lucas, whose credits include Du Welz’s 2004 horror-thriller “Calvaire,” are game and effective as the desperately damaged duo. But Du Welz, despite a strong assist from cinematographer Manuel Dacosse, rarely musters the requisite tension or propulsion to immerse us fully in the story’s wickedly wild ride.
“Alleluia.” No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
In French with subtitles.
Playing: Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena; also July 17 and 18 only at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.