‘All You Need is Death’ Review: Irish Folk Horror with a Lyrical Quality

All You Need is Death is smartly crafted and explores fascinating ideas, but its best features are also potentially its most off-putting.

All You Need is Death was released on streaming in the United States on April 11, 2024.

What is All You Need is Death About?

Anna and Aleks prepare to steal a song in All You Need is Death (2023).
The way Anna and Aleks go about collecting folk songs is dishonest and manipulative.

All You Need is Death, written and directed by Paul Duane, is a cross between folk horror and the mind-shattering themes of Lovecraftian horror. At the heart of the film is an Irish folk song passed down from mother to daughter over centuries. The song tells the story of a love that turns into a curse, and it is sung using words that predate the modern Irish language. The melody is not meant to be heard outside of the lineage of women who pass it down to each other through memory. All You Need is Death explores what happens when the music is heard by the wrong ears.

Olwen Fouéré as Rita Concannon in ALl You Need is Death (2023).
It’s possible that not even Rita knows the full power of the song she’s been given to safeguard.

Anna (Simone Collins) and Aleks (Charlie Maher) are a couple who travel around Ireland searching for—and secretly recording—unique folk songs. The more rare the tune, the more money they can receive from collectors. They happen upon some information that could lead them to their most important discovery yet, but their tip is acted on first by Agnes (Catherine Siggins), a mysterious woman with an intense interest in rare folk songs. Anna, Aleks, and Agnes all arrive at the home of Rita Concannon (Olwen Fouéré) who reluctantly shares her song, mostly because of a connection she feels with Anna. But now that the music is out, the lives of everyone involved are forever changed by the power of the song and the mental and physical effects it has on them.

All You Need is Death Review

Agnes smiles while sitting at a desk in All you Need is Death (2023).
Agnes leads a secret group of people who search for ancient songs, assuring her followers that music from the distant past forms a kind of “modern alchemy” when discovered.

Watching All You Need is Death is like listening to a song sung in a language you don’t understand—your enjoyment is going to be based more on the feeling it gives you rather than the story it tells you. That’s not to say that the story in All You Need is Death is as incomprehensible as the lyrics of the film’s cursed song initially are. What it means is that the movie is less interested in explaining everything that’s happening on screen, and it’s more concerned with instilling a sense of growing dread in the viewer.

A flashback in All You Need is Death (2023).
Glimpses of the events that inspired the song are shown throughout the movie as the characters work to translate its words.

All You Need is Death excels in setting a grim mood. The movie is filled with long, quiet shots that create a somber aesthetic. With notable exceptions, most of the characters’ actions and reactions are subdued, sometimes to the point of leading viewers to wonder about their motivations. The visuals and actions combine to give the film an impression of inevitability, even if neither the characters nor the audience know for certain exactly what dark fate they are heading towards. They just know they are inching closer and closer to something awful.

Breezeblock standing in a red light in All You Need is Death (2023).
Rita’s son, Breezeblock (Nigel O’Neill), enters the movie partway through

The measured pacing and the ambiguous nature in which the movie handles many of its details are methods of storytelling that won’t necessarily connect with all audiences. There is a plot thread of revenge that is much easier to grasp, but that thread ultimately feels like a plot device meant mostly to usher the characters towards the finale rather than to play much into the movie’s overarching themes. To be fair, the revenge story line does initially connect with the main idea of All You Need is Death, but it turns into something else by the end.

Anna has an emaciated hand caress her face in All You Need is Death (2023).
“Love” takes many forms in All You Need is Death.

So what is the main idea of All You Need is Death? Love that takes form of a curse. Or, as it’s stated in the movie, “love is a knife with a blade for a handle.” At least, that’s part of it. It’s a bit more complicated than that. Enough is left open to interpretation that different viewers will take away different meanings from what they’re watching. This is the biggest strength of All You Need is Death, but it’s also the film’s biggest hurdle for viewers looking for more direct engagement.

Who Will Enjoy All You Need is Death?

Aleks and Anna Smile while sitting together on a couch in All You Need is Death (2023).
A rare moment when both Aleks and Anna are smiling.

Personally, All You Need is Death didn’t come together for me. The visuals are consistently good, the music is haunting, and the central idea is interesting, but the way the story is presented is a bit too sparse for my tastes. The dread that the movie builds never really settled in for me, so it was like I was just waiting for something that never fully developed. I did enjoy the ending, but overall I never connected with the film.

Even so, I do appreciate All You Need is Death. It is a well-constructed movie that uses its form to deliver its message in smart ways. It’s almost lyrical in presentation, which makes perfect sense for a movie about the effects of music. If it were more narratively driven then it wouldn’t have the same effect. All You Need is Death is recommended for fans of slower-paced folk horror, and people who enjoy darker movies that force you to contemplate not just what is happening, but why it’s happening and what it all means.

All You Need is Death is available now for purchase and rental on VOD sites including Amazon Prime Video.

Further Reading

Meet The Author

Chris has a degree in film studies at Temple University’s campus in Tokyo, Japan. He is a renowned expert on horror cinema.