ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH Review: The Power of Song Will Devour You

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH Review: The Power of Song Will Devour You

Folk horror is often associated with a particular location, or perhaps a physical object that can be held in hands, something concretely tangible. But, especially in an age when the folkiness of this horror, the true human darkness from which they derive, finds itself in smaller crumbs and scattered in forgotten corners of our modern world, we might forget that folk also comes with words, or music - that we can be transported between generations in the mind and voice, in ways that cannot be owned.

At least, until the intervention of modern technology, and that transference can bring the ire of demons. This type of storytelling, remembrance, and its theft, is at the heart of Irish film All You Need Is Death. Writer and director Paul Duane crafts a creeping and disturbing tale of what it means to harness the power embodied in a folk tale - not so much folk horror itself, but the implications when its lore is not respected, its secrets not kept when they were clearly meant to be.

Anna (Simone Collins) and Aleks (Charlie Maher) are members of a small group who search for old folk songs, preferably undiscovered ones, or familiar ones with new variations. Some are wanted by collectors, while the leader of their group Agnes (Catherine Siggins) seems to have more sinister motives. They indeed find a song that has only been passed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years - the singer only agrees to perform it for Anna, written in a pre-Irish language, based on a tale of love, revenge, and horror, and on the condition that it not be recorded in any way. Agnes works around this on what she thinks is a legitimate technicality. But of course, the dark forces behind the song do not recognize such a flimsy excuse.

Sometimes an emotion, an event, is so overwhelming, the only way to process it is through a song. And songs, especially ones passed down from mouth to mouth, are history. But words also have power - there’s a reason spells are dependent on the words spoken. When Rita (Olwen Fouéré) agrees to pass the song to Anna, something in her knows that part of her soul will go with it, and perhaps that part of her soul was always somewhat rotted by what the song meant. It is a story of a woman punished by a powerful man, who then does someone so horrible that it condemns her to this eternal torment, all imbued in these lyrics and notes. When Rita sings, it is perhaps less a lament than a tormented wail, slightly sour, despondent and enraged all at once.

all you need is death 2.jpgIt’s a powerful moment in an already unsettling film. Duane creates an atmosphere that’s not only dark, but makes you feel how the modern world has encroached upon the ancient, how its attempts to commodify what was once sacred will come back to not just haunt it, but devour it, quite literally. A streetlamp glow will not stop an old world demon. If you try and translate something that was deliberately never written down, if you try to commodify that which you were never meant to hear, you are inviting its power to devour you.

Love, of course, can be said to devour, love can cut like this blade of the song, love that is unrequited or unwanted, can turn to such hate when held in the hands of the powerful, that the powerless might themselves perform the most hateful acts in desperation. As Anna finds herself left behind, she is still the primary keeper of this song - perhaps this possession has meant she will both be and receive its pain.

Perhaps memories are meant to fade, and languages too: the emotion can still be in the words even if they are no longer understood, and a faded memory means faded pain, trauma best left in the past. But even carrying the song means something is forcing us to let it survive. Duane keeps this sense of eternal dread as a constant hum in the film, once that slowly increases its volume until it is unavoidable, and the characters are caught in its ferocious wake.

All You Need Is Death immediately thrusts its audience into a place of disquiet and discomfort, its rough and unflinching camera and microphone tuned to that proverbial station at the end of the dial where the ancient will allow the modern to drag it forward, knowing how easily that ancient will overpower any hubris those who wish to harness it possess.

All You Need Is Death opens in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD from XYZ Films on Thursday April 11th.

Full disclosure: ScreenAnarchy is owned by XYZ Films. This had no bearing on the review.

All You Need Is Death

  • Paul Duane
  • Paul Duane
  • Sarah Burns
  • Simone Collins
  • Olwen Fouéré
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Charlie MaherPaul DuaneSimone CollinsSarah BurnsOlwen FouéréHorror

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