The Movie Waffler Glasgow Film Festival 2024 Review - ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH | The Movie Waffler

Glasgow Film Festival 2024 Review - ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH

All You Need is Death review
A young couple's search for Irish folk songs unleashes an ancient evil.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Paul Duane

Starring: Olwen Fouéré, Charlie Maher, Simone Collins, Gary Whelan

All You Need is Death poster

Music is magic. When we listen to a song, within just three minutes (optimum pop length) our mood and being is helplessly transformed: the melody, rhythm and incanted lyrics a spell working a witchcraft upon body and soul. Even actual Darwin, who had no truck with such specious spiritualism, conceded that the origins of music are mysterious, affecting a "sense of sublimity" which didn't square with his evolutionary thesis. We do not need music as a matter of survival, yet nonetheless we constantly crave and recreate its capacity to "pass us readily into devotion": try this chorus and tell me that music doesn't put us in contact with the spine chilling divine. In Paul Duane's singular indie All You Need is Death Anna (Simone Collins) and Aleks (Charlie Maher) get it. As research students they scour the side streets and secret histories of Dublin to track down forgotten folk songs, aggregating them for sinister collector Agnes (Catherine Siggins). Their deep digs for the "weirdest songs, the oldest songs, the songs nobody has ever heard of" uncover legend of a ballad with such deadly melodies and Gaeltacht lyrical intent that it has remained hidden, passed down (much in the same manner as the Grimm's Kinder - und Hausmärchen was mainly collated from female storytellers) via familial oral tradition by matriarchal adepts. As Hot Streak advocated, music may make you lose control, but, in the same manner as Monty Python's funniest joke in the world (one for the kids there), to those who hear it this jingle is jeopardous.

All You Need is Death review

As part of All You Need is Death's off kilter cosmos, its underground trad-music trade scene is depicted with the same severity as the realisation of drug rings within crime narratives: off-the-beaten-track pub backrooms, clandestine meetings in car parks, muscular threats from shady men (as an obsessive hoarder myself - comics, Prince obscurities, fairy tale books - I appreciated this hyperreal representation of the collector mentality, an accumulative dynamic where each gained piece feels a fragment closer to assembling the gnostic whole). Further to this, the mise-en-scene is often composed of night-time country lanes, diegetically illuminated by the hazy scarlet of car lights - a fringe environment.


Like Hansel and Gretel getting yet more lost in the woods, investigation into this liminal space leads our beauteous pair to Breezeblock (Nigel O'Neill), who is a puppeteer and carer to his mysterious, Cailleach-coded mother Rita (Olwen Fouéré), who apparently sings the song which they seek.

All You Need is Death review

Congruously for a film predicated upon the sublime power of art, iconography explicitly relates to form in All You Need is Death. The analogue nature of recordings - sung into tape, scribbled as sheet music - correlates to the handmade, indie urgency of this low-budget gem. In keeping with this motif of folk-craft, we see gorgeously unsettling marionettes hanging from the rafters of Breezeblock's cluttered house. Their uncanny, peeled paint presences watch as Anna and Aleks turn up to find that Agnes is already with Rita. It is part of Duane's own storytelling sorcery that we don't realise the creeping sense of dread, that clutch in the chest sensation of suddenly grasping that you're in deep, until too late. Agnes' sting is a trick played not only upon our naïve protagonists but the audience, too.


Aleks is asked to leave the room while Rita sings to Anna, who thus becomes a carrier of the song/power/virus. At this watershed, All You Need is Death's narrative slips into a metaphysical middle-eight of its own; time skips like a dusty 45rpm and meaning is obscured within the static as the film fluctuates to its own strange tempos, a hymnal of obsession and sensuality and dark magic. We non-causally cut to tribal figures of the past and abject imagery of glistening flesh, as if these spectres were always at the edge of the film impatient to invade its frames.

All You Need is Death review

A horror movie one off, what All You Need is Death most reminded me of was the folk-occult novels of god Alan Garner, wherein fatally curious characters discover strange patterns in the everyday which coincide ultimately with ancient energies. Agnes, hugely entertaining in her portentousness, intones that a "rose springs up from the corpse of the past," and, like folk music itself, All You Need is Death seems powered by an unspoken antecedent, a shared Jungian instinct, a familiar disconcert (isn't folk music the unofficial music of Gen X childhood?). Writing this review, Ian Lynch's evocative score and song is once more stuck in my head - yikes! Just like the wretched Anna and Aleks, am I too a slave to the rhythm?

All You Need is Death received its UK Premiere at Glasgow FrightFest on 9 March.

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