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Overlook Review: ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH Examines the Dark Side of Collecting

A person who has their hands up which shows eyes on their palms.
Image courtesy of Overlook Film Festival

By Amylou Ahava

Serious collectors, whether looking for rare books, action figures, or spoons, can often appear unhinged and obsessive to those outside of this unique community. Usually, these coveted items involve a lot of searching and bargaining and will come with a hefty price that can involve large sums of money or something more deadly. The dangerous side of collecting has appeared in horror with the TV series "Deadwax" and Season 1 of the podcast Video Palace “The White Tapes,” which both follow obsessive collectors searching for a rare, almost mythical vinyl record or VHS tape.

These stories show that the journey to find the sought-after item can be just as deadly as the item itself. Similar to these stories, ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH shows the search for a folk song so ancient and so rare that the mere whisper of its lyrics can bring about death. Director Paul Duane creates a story of lore and love as the passion for music and rarity lead two unsuspecting collectors down a dangerous and irreversible path.

Anna and Aleks (portrayed by Simone Collins and Charlie Maher) are passionate about folk songs, especially the rare and obscure ones. Their journey takes them through the picturesque Irish countryside, where they seek out these songs that exist only in the memories of those who sing them. While they genuinely enjoy the music, their true motivation lies in a secretive underground network of collectors willing to pay top dollar for these ancient tunes. This shadowy organization adds a layer of intrigue and danger to their quest and pushes Anna and Aleks to delve deeper into the hidden corners of Irish folklore. 

Soon, our protagonists’ paths cross with the elderly Rita (Olwen Fouere), who knows a song so old that it predates the Irish language. This haunting melody has been carefully preserved in Rita's family for countless generations as it was passed down from mother to daughter as a sacred tradition. Rita insists that the song must never be written down and emphasizes the importance of oral tradition in preserving its essence. Known only by the enigmatic title "Love is a knife with a blade for a handle," this song becomes the ultimate quest for Anna and Aleks. Its ethereal beauty and mysterious origins drive them to unravel its secrets and eventually brings them closer to the heart of Irish folklore and the hidden truths it may reveal.


In ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH, Anna's character development is central to the narrative's richness. At the start, she and Aleks are portrayed as a couple more interested in the financial opportunities presented by collecting obscure folk songs than in the songs themselves. However, Anna transforms when they encounter Rita and her ancient, unrecorded song. This encounter serves as a turning point as it shows the shift in Anna's perspective from mere curiosity to a deep appreciation for these songs' cultural and historical value. Her journey through the Irish countryside becomes not just a quest for rare music but a personal journey of discovery and connection to her own heritage. Anna's development highlights the film's theme of the transformative power of music and tradition. It shows how her initial pursuit of profit evolves into a genuine passion for preserving and honoring cultural heritage.

And even though the story revolves around music and auditory power, the film boasts a visually striking style that enhances its thematic elements. The film's cinematography captures the Irish countryside's beauty by using wide shots to emphasize the vastness of the landscape and intimate close-ups to convey the characters' emotions. The color palette is rich and earthy, with deep greens and browns dominating the screen, which reflects the film's focus on nature and tradition. This naturalistic color scheme contrasts with the darker, shadowy tones used in scenes involving the underground collectors, as this is meant to highlight the tension between the character's pursuit of profit and their lack of appreciation for cultural heritage. 

Overall, ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH masterfully weaves horror elements into its narrative, which enhances its exploration of the power of storytelling and cultural preservation. Through the eerie backdrop of the Irish countryside and encounters with shadowy figures, the film creates a sense of foreboding that underscores the importance of passing down traditions untainted by outside influences. The horror elements, such as the mysterious organization of collectors and the ancient, haunting song that predates language, add a layer of tension and mystery to the story. They serve as a reminder that cultural heritage is about preserving stories and songs and protecting them from exploitation and distortion. In this way, the film uses horror to underscore the significance of cultural identity and the dangers of allowing it to be commodified or corrupted.


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