Irish folk horror titles like A Hole In The Ground, You Are Not My Mother, and The Hallow have proven time and time again that the country’s national horror cinema is not here to play around. Director Paul Duane continues that tradition with his new film All You Need Is Death, an atmospheric and deeply haunting cosmic horror film that reaches deep into Ireland’s history to craft its harrowing narrative.
Anna (Simone Collins) and Aleks (Charlie Maher) are a young couple helping a strange collect rare Irish folk songs as they believe alchemy somehow lurks in the lyrics. They employ sneaky tactics to convince suspicious locals to let them record songs or gain access to the lyrics in an attempt to please their leader Agnes (Catherine Siggins). But one night, Anna and Aleks decide to pay a visit to a mysterious older woman who’s said to know a particularly rare song. They pay her a visit and discover Agnes is already there. The woman (Olwen Fouéré) won’t let them record the song and Aleks must leave the room. Why? She won’t explain. But still, she opens her lips and belts out a ballad that shakes Anna to the core. And, of course, Agness clandestinely recorded the song.
From there, everything starts to fall apart. Time, characters, everything feels like it slips away. Aleks disappears and Anna can’t find him. He’s holing up with the group leader, madness seemingly gripping his mind. As the two of them obsessively pour over the song and try to decipher the lyrics, the more they realize this song is about love. But not the kind of love we see on TV. We’re talking about all-consuming love that is so passionate you become violent. Anna and Aleks’ storylines diverge as they all drift towards a violent conclusion orchestrated by something that’s been waiting to escape for millennia.
All You Need Is Death is a film best experienced cold because it is such an easy film to spoil. And to spoil this film is to ruin a genuinely horrifying cosmic horror that meditates on what it means to truly love something. Perhaps it’s a word and feeling we’ve lost the meaning of, and Duane imagines a scenario where the true nature of love is finally uncovered. And it definitely isn’t roses, chocolates, and pecks on the cheek.
The horror here isn’t borne from typical scares, but from persistently troubling imagery that seemingly has no source. Flashes of the past come on screen, and at first, they merely function as puzzling additions that don’t seem connected to anything. But, as Duane continually proves, everything on screen has a function and those disturbing images are just one small part of a horrific puzzle. This is a movie that needs to steep in your brain like the most repulsive tea bag, dispersing its flavors slowly but ensuring they are all-encompassing.
All You Need Is Death gets to the core of cosmic horror, which isn’t tentacled beasts or unknowable deities, but the incomprehensibility of the situation at hand. Creating that kind of confusion in a film is often frowned upon since you want viewers to understand what they’re seeing. The basics of a narrative film, right? However, Duane is able to strike a balance here between emphasizing the incomprehensible while also delivering a satisfying horror experience. It’s the finest example I’ve seen in recent memory of a cosmic horror film really integrates that unknowingness into the film’s structure to deliver an ending that’s an absolute gut punch that Duane telegraphs from the first seconds of All You Need Is Death.
With this film, Duane crafts a pitch-perfect cosmic folk horror slow burn that settles into your bones like a chill from the sea. Its siren song envelops you and pulls you through the runtime, soothing your confusion and reminding you that this is all happening for a reason. Duane hands us a blood-soaked package that is not only a shining piece of Irish horror, but a chilling example of effective contemporary cosmic horror that laughs in the face of greedy academics. And never forget, love is a knife where the handle is also a blade.
With ‘All You Need Is Death,’ Paul Duane crafts a pitch-perfect cosmic folk horror slow burn that settles into your bones like a chill from the sea.