The Fall of the House of Usher - in Mike Flanagan's Latest Horror Creation

Mike Flanagan, the master of spine-chilling narratives, has once again graced us with his presence just in time for the spooky season. 

The Fall of the House of Usher
The Fall of the House of Usher

Known for his exceptional works like "Oculus," "Gerald’s Game," and "Doctor Sleep (Director’s Cut)," as well as his captivating TV series including "The Haunting of Hill House," "The Haunting of Bly Manor," and "Midnight Mass," Flanagan reigns supreme in the realm of horror. This spooky season, he presents his latest multi-part horror drama, "The Fall of the House of Usher," an adaptation of the macabre tales penned by the grandfather of all things eerie, Edgar Allan Poe.

Unveiling the Usher Reunion

In this thrilling new series, Flanagan brings together a stellar cast, including Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Rahul Kohli, Kate Siegel, Henry Thomas, Zach Gilford, Samantha Sloyan, T’Nia Miller, Annabeth Gish, Robert Longstreet, and Kyleigh Curran. It's practically a Flanagan Horror Family Reunion, with familiar faces gracing the screen once more.

A Complex Narrative Structure

The Fall of the House of Usher offers a complex narrative structure. While it weaves an overarching story about the decline of the prominent Usher family through eight episodes, each of the seven episodes is an adaptation of a different Poe story. 

This intricate structure, though engaging, can be somewhat confusing as it jumps through time, taking us back to the defining moments that shaped the Usher family's fate.

A Dark Social Commentary

However, one of Flanagan's more daring choices is to model the Usher family after the Sacklers, infamous for their involvement with Purdue Pharma and OxyContin. While the opioid epidemic is undoubtedly a real-life horror, its connection to Edgar Allan Poe's work feels unusual. 

The Fall of the House of Usher struggles to effectively merge Poe's phantasms and tragedies with a modern societal plague, portraying the Ushers as either cartoonishly evil or foolishly wicked. This portrayal misses the mark as it fails to capture the banal evil of the Sacklers, who profited from misery while complaining about trivial matters like unfriendly neighbors.

Highlights Amidst the Shadows

Nevertheless, The Fall of the House of Usher offers some captivating moments. Episode two, "The Masque of the Red Death," delivers truly gruesome body horror that fits splendidly within a rave gone awry. 

The Fall of the House of Usher
The Fall of the House of Usher

Samantha Sloyan shines as an increasingly unhinged wannabe lifestyle guru in "Goldbug," while T’Nia Miller masterfully depicts the frantic unraveling of "The Tell-Tale Heart." Episode four, "The Black Cat," stands out as the best straight adaptation of Poe, though it features graphic and recurring animal cruelty.

Stellar Performances and Some Disconnections

The series boasts exceptional performances, especially from seasoned actors like Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood. Gugino expertly portrays the enigmatic figure haunting the Ushers, while Greenwood brings a perfectly balanced performance as patriarch Roderick Usher. 

However, there are some inconsistencies in the cast. Zach Gilford's performance as the younger Roderick lacks the depth to convey his moral decay effectively. Similarly, Willa Fitzgerald is outstanding as the younger Madeline Usher, but Mary McDonnell's portrayal lacks the cruelty suggested by Fitzgerald's performance. The disconnect between younger and older sets of actors in the series is palpable.

Standout Newcomers

Among the newcomers, Mark Hamill impresses as Roderick's cretinous fixer, Arthur, and Carl Lumbly shines as Roderick's frenemy, C. Auguste Dupin. These actors, along with Gugino, Fitzgerald, and Greenwood, appear to be in one story, while the rest of the cast seems to be in another. This disconnect extends to the narrative itself.

An Overwhelming Narrative

The Fall of the House of Usher may have a little too much going on. Despite its great aesthetics, spooky atmosphere, and strong performances, it fails to form a cohesive whole. "Murder in the Rue Morgue" is a particular victim of trying to merge the Sackler narrative with Poe's original work. While the desire to tell a tale of billionaire malevolence and their fitting retribution is understandable, it doesn't feel entirely thought out, especially when compared to Flanagan's intricate and cohesive work in "Midnight Mass."

The Verdict

For fans of Mike Flanagan, The Fall of the House of Usher is akin to a greatest hits compilation. However, for Poe purists, it might feel like a compromise. Despite its moments of brilliance, it falls short of the high standards set by Flanagan's previous work.

Please note that this review was published during the SAG-AFTRA strike of 2023, acknowledging the invaluable contributions of actors. "The Fall of the House of Usher" is now available for streaming exclusively on Netflix. 


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